“Patronize Home Industry!” Sound familiar? While this type of ad campaign is popular today, the phrase actually comes from an advertisement for a local cigar manufacturer found in the Haines, Stone & Co.s Little Falls City Directory of 1892. The ad encourages potential consumers to “Look to the good of the City…” while at the same time satisfying their own tastes by patronizing a local business. At that time in Little Falls, buying locally made cigars was not only convenient for the cigar smoking population, it was also important to the growth of the city as the success of small businesses such as cigar manufacturers added to the health of the local economy.
Cigars, those tightly rolled bundles of dried and fermented tobacco leaves, were unknown to the western world until Christopher Columbus and his crew encountered them during their 1492 expedition to the New World. During a stop in Cuba, members of the expedition were met by local inhabitants who were smoking rolls of dried leaves. Columbus brought this newly discovered delicacy back with him to Spain, where it quickly caught on. It was not until the eighteenth century, however, that cigar smoking began to spread to the rest of Europe and the United States.
The late nineteenth century was the beginning of what can be referred to as a boom era of cigar manufacturing in Little Falls and other cities across the United States. While the cigar business was important to the country throughout the entire nineteenth century, the peak in domestic production did not occur until around the turn of the twentieth century. Part of the reason for this was that snuff and clay pipes remained the favorite tobacco-taking tools until after the Civil War. Cigarettes were no competition as they were extremely rare until the twentieth century. As cigar smoking caught on, cigar factories quickly began to sprout across the nation.
Among the successful cigar manufacturers in Little Falls during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was Henry William Venners (1877-1930). Born in England, Venners came to Little Falls in 1895 specifically to open a cigar factory. With his brother-in-law, J. B. Armstrong, Venners purchased the already established James Hiram (Jack) Reid cigar factory for one hundred and eighty dollars. The site is believed to be the location of the present Mushel Drug Store at the corner of First Street Southeast and Broadway. Venners had learned the cigar making trade at the age of eighteen. Initially he made the cigars while his brother-in-law did the other work and learned the trade. Venners and Armstrong sold several varieties of cigars, including the exclusive brands “Henry W.” and “M. C.” One of the establishment’s employees, Pat (P. J.) Lauermann, had a brand of cigars named for him – “Pat’s Best”. Venners owned and operated various businesses in Little Falls throughout his lifetime. In 1914 he entered the wholesale jobbing business (i.e. candy, tobacco, paper bags) and in 1926 he opened the Lindy Waffle Shop at 112 First Street Southeast. At that time he also owned the M. C. Store, Venners Wholesale and Retail Supply Company, and the City Café.
In 1905, Venners’ employee P. J. (Peter Jacob) Lauermann (1882–1969) opened his own cigar factory in the basement of the J. G. Bourassa saloon at 310 Broadway in Little Falls. Born in Illinois, P. J. moved to Little Falls with his parents, Peter and Barbara (Schmall) Lauermann, when he was four years old. P. J.’s father, a wagon and sled-maker, was a member of the Little Falls city council and served for several years as the police chief of Little Falls. P. J. also spent a number of years on the Little Falls police force.
Other cigar makers in Little Falls included Geddes & Borley, Alex Van Praag, J. P. Wagner, R. J. Stedler, Carl VonderHaar, Fred Luerson, Jake Burton and John C. Fetherspil. Fetherspil worked for forty years in the cigar trade. In 1895 he leased the room over Gross’ feed store on First Avenue South for his cigar business. Four years later he was featured in the promotional piece, Nichols’ Headlight Souvenir of Little Falls and Morrison County Minnesota. Published by C. S. Nichols of Chicago, Illinois, Nichols’ Headlight describes Fetherspil as a Manufacturer of Cigars dealing “…largely in the local trade, the brands turned out are principally of high grade goods….He does considerable wholesale business and has been identified in the trade at Little Falls for the last four years.”
By the time the 1916-17 Dow’s City Directory Little Falls, Minnesota, was published, the number of cigar manufacturers in the city had dropped dramatically. Several establishments were still selling cigars and tobacco, showing a continued interest in smoking, but many of the small cigar establishments had closed as they were unable to compete with the increased mechanization of larger factories. Today there has been a marked resurgence in the popularity of cigar smoking and, consequentially, in the making of hand-rolled cigars. According to the Cigar Association of America, cigar sales were up to 2.6 billion by 1995 and the sale of hand-rolled cigars had gone up thirty percent. The new cigar boom, sometimes referred to as “cigarmania”, has been encouraged by popular culture, with comedians such as Groucho Marx, Jimmy Durante, Milton Berle and George Burns, and actors such as Demi Moore, Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, and Danny DiVito prominently seen smoking their favorite stogies. Who knows, perhaps one day in the future Little Falls will once more have its own cigar factory.
By Ann Marie Johnson
Copyright 2008, Morrison County Historical Society
The Making of a Cigar: The making of a handmade cigar is a labor intensive, arduous process, from growing the tobacco to rolling the cigar. Cigar rolling is a craft that is often handed down from generation to generation. An experienced roller or “torcedore” can produce over one hundred cigars a day. Composed of three parts – wrapper, binder, filler – a cigar is a blend of filler leaves that are rolled into a binder leaf. This is then pressed in a wooden mold and wrapped in a carefully chosen and trimmed wrapper leaf.