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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. 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 thunder.

They stood there talking quietly. The fate of the nation was being decided. They knew 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 hand rolled 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.

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 the new stalks would be three and four feet high by now in the fields. 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 the 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. For 150 years 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 the deft touch 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 technology which would make their factories more productive, and the lives of their cigar rollers less labor intensive. 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. FX Smith's Sons original de-stemmer still works like a champ. The century-old cigar rolling machinery is some of the most fascinating genius stuff you have ever seen. We will publish videos showing how it works on this site soon.

Today, FX Smith's Sons continues to use American labor, American leaf, and American labor saving machinery.




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