History Nebraska Blog

Nebraska Cigars Once a Smoker’s Delight

Ross & Bryson Cigar Factory, Lincoln. NSHS RG2158-PH9-16 (above).

The photograph above, from the collections of the Nebraska State Historical Society, depicts employees of a Lincoln establishment, identified by a sign over the awning as the Ross & Bryson Cigar Factory, about 1910. Others have gathered to pose, including a young boy seated at left. A cigar store Indian stands in the window at right.

Although Nebraska has never been known as a center of cigar manufacture, the state once boasted a number of small cigar factories that by 1900 were turning out more than thirty million cigars each year. Many of these early cigar “factories” were actually cottage industries located in a home or perhaps an adjoining shed. Two or three people made cigars by hand, using wooden molds. However, not all cigar manufacturing was done on such a small scale, even in Nebraska. A Grand Island cigar factory in 1890 employed thirty-eight people, many of them young women. The firm, said the Grand Island Independent, “keeps a great stock of fine leaf tobaccos of the best domestic brands, and of foreign tobaccos, which come all the way from Havana and even Sumatra.”

Employees at the Ross & Bryson Cigar Factory in Lincoln, Nebraska. On the table in the foreground are tools of the cigar rollers' trade, including cigar holding block, presses, and containers of tobacco. NSHS RG2158-PH9-15 (above).

Said to be “shrewd, energetic businessmen,” the two proprietors of Ross & Bryson, Samuel J. Ross and C. E. Bryson, got their start in Tecumseh in June 1890, where in 1892 their firm employed from seven to twelve cigar makers to produce both five-cent and ten-cent cigars, the latter called their “Genuine Havana.” Ross later relocated to Lincoln, where he first appears in the city directory in 1907 as an employee of cigar manufacturers Herminghaus & Hellweg.

Ross & Bryson in the capital city must have been a small concern. Although Ross continued to be listed by the city directory as a cigar maker through the late 1920s, the firm name itself does not appear. The photo at the top of the page was probably taken before July 7 of 1910, when the Alliance Herald noted that Lincoln dentist Albert Gaiser, whose sign is posted at left, moved his dental practice to Alliance.

– Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

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