Historical Background

Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company (L&M) has existed in some form since before the War of 1812. It began to establish itself in St. Louis, Missouri, in the 1860s, and the company was incorporated in 1873. Liggett & Myers specialized in plug tobacco, a form of chewing tobacco, but they soon began producing cigarettes, as well.

Like St. Louis, Durham, North Carolina, was a center of tobacco production after the Civil War. Union soldiers who had passed through Durham returned north wanting the fine tobacco they had found in North Carolina. The Bull Durham Tobacco Company answered this call and by 1884 had around 900 employees. Soon, however, the Duke family rose as a formidable competitor to Bull Durham. Led by James Buchanan Duke, Washington Duke & Sons focused its energies on cigarettes and innovative methods of production. It quickly became a leading cigarette manufacturer in the country. In the late 1880s, James B. Duke engineered a merger of the five leading cigarette companies, and the American Tobacco Company (ATC) was incorporated in 1890. It began acquiring smaller companies throughout the nation, including L&M, which it bought in 1899.

In 1911, a Supreme Court decision found the ATC guilty of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act, a law passed in 1890 to prevent business monopolies. As a result of that ruling, American Tobacco Company was divided into four companies: the American Tobacco Company, Liggett & Myers Tobacco, P. Lorillard, and R.J. Reynolds. L&M occupied a large factory in downtown Durham and manufactured, among others, Chesterfield brand cigarettes. It operated in the Durham location until 2000 when it moved to a new factory in Mebane, North Carolina, about 30 miles west of Durham.

In 1999, photographer Laura Drey spent several weeks touring inside L&M's Durham factory, photographing the employees, the facilities, and the processes during L&M's last days in Durham. This exhibition features the fruits of Drey's labor. Images were chosen to illustrate the process of manufacturing cigarettes at the end of the twentieth century in Durham, North Carolina. We invite you to explore the exhibition and learn how cigarettes were made by one of the largest tobacco companies in the United States.