The Long and Industrious History of FX Smith's Sons
One hot Wednesday in July, five women tumbled up the outside basement stairs of Old Man Smith's general store in Irishtown Pennsylvania. They cocked their heads, listening to thunder in the distance. Except it wasn't thunder. It was cannon, ten miles away at Gettysburg. Then rattling gunshots. Then more thunderous cannon.
They stood there talking quietly. The fate of the nation was being decided. They had met the men who would decide it, too. Soldiers from both sides had been dropping in at Smith's store for a week now. Fine, affable, handsome, idealistic fellows, even when they didn't pay. No matter whether their coats were blue or gray, they came because they liked the cigars which the Old Man's son Francis hired these women to hand roll in the basement from the very best local tobacco.
By and by, one after another, these five women with the brown stained hands would wander back to the stairs, glance over a shoulder at the other groups gathered up and down the street, then step down into the damp cool basement. It was too hot to stand outside. This would likely continue the rest of the day anyway. And it did. Three days, in fact.
Francis Xavier Smith himself? Let's assume that he was out scouring the countryside for the very best locally grown tobacco. Leaves would be running short by now, after all these scores of thousands of smoke hungry men marched through. But there would be new stalks in the fields, three and four feet high by now. Rich black earth only recently cleared from virgin forest. Forest split into fence rails. Blazing hot sun. Thundershowers twice a week. In another month, these stalks be cut and hung to cure in slatted barns. By the time a certain lanky work-worn rail splitter mumbled his famous ten brief sentences over the graves of those men busy dying at Gettysburg today, the barn slats would have been closed up, the leaves would be stacked in Smith's son's basement, and Smith's son's cigars would be rolling.
That's where it all started. And for 150 years ever since then, Smith's Son and then his sons, and eventually his son's son's son's son have all continually rolled cigars. There were dozens of cigar makers at one time; but no one succeeded like FX Smith's Sons. Quality and demand were such that the little business started in the Old Man's basement overtook the store, and eventually spread to six factories, employing five hundred workers rolling over six million cigars a year. For the most part, these rollers were women, because women have always had the deft touch which the task requires.
The first fifty years of FX Smith's Sons history was an epoch of tremendous
innovation. Steam, water, gas and diesel engines, and electricity all were
harnessed to make the jobs of ordinary American men and women that much easier.
Cigar rolling was no exception. A hundred years ago, FX Smith embraced new
technology which would make their factories more productive, and the lives of
their cigar rollers less laborious. One of the first tasks to be mechanized was
removing the stem from each leaf. Back then, American machinery was built here,
done right, and made to last period. FX Smith's Sons original de-stemmer machine
still works like a champ. The solid old cigar rolling machinery is some of the
most fascinating genius stuff you have ever seen. Watch the video showing how it
works on this site or on YouTube.
Yes, many other cigar manufacturers have moved their operations to third world hand-rolling sweatshops overseas, to take advantage of miserable wages and working conditions. But FX Smith's Sons continues to use American labor, American leaf, and American labor saving machinery. Why? Because it's obviously the right thing to do.