Binghamton experienced a remarkable boom in the late 19th century as it became the second-largest manufacturer of cigars in all of the United States.

The thriving cigar industry played a significant role in the city's growth, economy, and population. However, the success of Binghamton's cigar industry was not without its challenges and controversies.

A Perfect Storm of Factors

As the United States headed towards industrialization, Binghamton emerged as a transportation hub with multiple rail lines connecting it to the rest of the country.

The influx of millions of immigrants seeking employment during the Industrial Revolution and the availability of open spaces for the construction of factories created the perfect conditions for the growth of the cigar industry. Additionally, the assembly line system allowed unskilled laborers to take part in the cigar-making process which only further helped the industry's expansion.

The Industry's Growth

Starting with just one cigar factory during the Civil War era, Binghamton quickly saw an explosion in cigar manufacturing. By 1900, the city was home to around 70 cigar factories, employing thousands of workers. In its heyday, Binghamton produced an astonishing 100 million cigars each year, second only to New York City. Factory owners enjoyed prosperity as their products were shipped across the country and consumed in hotels, shops, and pool halls.

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Hardships for Workers

While the cigar industry brought economic growth and employment opportunities to Binghamton, working conditions for the labor force were dismal. Handwork was prevalent, from handling the tobacco leaves brought in by railroads to rolling and trimming the cigars. Even occasional tasks, like using spit to seal the round ends, were part of the workers' responsibilities.

AmericanIkons via eBay
AmericanIkons via eBay

Labor unrest was rampant, and a strike in 1890 lasted for several months as employees demanded fair pay. The strike exposed the poor treatment of workers and resulted in the famous Square Deal philosophy of George F. Johnson, aimed at improving worker conditions.

The Decline

The prosperity of the cigar industry in Binghamton was not destined to last. The rise of cigarettes after World War I made cigars less popular, and the introduction of automation also contributed to the decline.

One by one, the old cigar factories closed their doors, leaving behind a legacy of over 130 opened and closed establishments. By 1929, as the Great Depression hit the nation, the industry was reduced to just two trade unions with a mere 23 members remaining. The once-thriving "segar" was extinguished, and the city's cigar industry became a thing of the past.

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