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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Remembering Henderson's Past: Industrial Capital?

It's time for another peek into the archives ...

Henderson: Industrial Capital?

Cancer sticks, coffin nails, and lung darts. . . Tobacco, which, according to the American Heart Association, is the leading preventable cause of premature death in the United States, seems to have become public enemy number one in our informed society. However, there was an era when Americans were not so loathing of the product and when the crop was responsible for making Henderson the second wealthiest city per-capita in the world.

In 1792, early settlers in the Henderson area quickly realized that the fertile soil of the abundant river bottoms was ideal for the growth of tobacco. By 1801, the county was the largest producer of the crop in the state, and by 1860, at the height of its affluence, Henderson had the largest dark tobacco market in the world, exporting via the Ohio River and the Atlantic Ocean to places like New Orleans, Belfast, Ireland, and Liverpool, England.

By 1865, though, the tobacco industry in Henderson took a plunge. Between 1860 and the conclusion of the Civil War, the generation of tobacco decreased from 8.1 million pounds to 5.2 million pounds, due largely to the loss of slaves. With the crash of slavery, though, tobacconists persisted, and in 1896, there were 17 large stemmeries (plants where the tobacco was stripped) in the city and several more in the county. The industry, though still strong in the county, suffered its greatest losses when the Great Depression of the 1930s hit, and tobacco could no longer be considered a significant cash crop. It might be said that the Depression ended an industrial era, but, looking at what we now know of tobacco risks, it may have been for the best.

To find out more about the tobacco industry in Henderson, come visit us in the archives, or to see what else we have, visit our genealogy webpage. You can also read other “Revisiting Henderson’s Past” entries.
(Photo is of loaded tobacco wagons on Main Street in the early part of the twentieth century. )

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