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Tobacco History

Tobacco is related to garden vegetables, flowers,weeds, and poisonous herbs such as potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, petunias, jimson wood, ground cherries, and nightshade. The family of plants is Solanaceae; the genus Nicotiana contains about 100 species, only two of which have been extensively cultivated. Nicotiana tabacam is used in cigarettes and tobacco and is the predominant type of crop tobacco.

Originally, Native Americans in the eastern United States grew Nicotiana rustica, which was the first form of tobacco introduced in England and Portugal. N. Tabacam, first introduced to the Spanish, was obtained from Mexico and South America. It has been the preferred tobacco since settlers in Jamestown, Virginia, began growing it.

Because planters believed that tobacco had to be grown on virgin soil, tobacco gradually made its way to the eastern part of what is now North Carolina. Consumer preferences for tobacco products changed decidedly from the early 1700's.

Carl Linnaeus describes tobacco in this 1762 edition of Caroli Linnaei Species plantarum, exhibentes plantas rite cognitas, ad general relatas, cum differentiis specificis, nominibus trivialibus, synonymis selectis, locis natalibus, secundum system a sexuale digestas.

In 1839, bright leaf tobacco was discovered by a slave named Stephen (headman on the farm of Abisha Slade, a successful planter in Caswell County). Stephen fell asleep owing to the heat from the wood fires in the tobacco barn, and when he awoke the fire was almost out. He rushed to a charcoal pit and found some charred logs on the dying embers. He threw these on the fire, which created a sudden drying heat, which resulted in the brightest yellow tobacco ever seen.

The eighteenth century became the "Age of Snuff." Tobacco from North Carolina was used for snuff and pipe smoking, because the cigarette was not widely known outside of Spain. By the 1840's cigarettes had become popular with French women. Much to the chagrin of anti-tobacco societies, cigarettes caught on in the United States as well. Dr. Russell Thacher Trall, an anti- tobacco campaigner, said: Some of the ladies of this refined and fashion-forming metropolis [New York] are aping the silly ways of some pseudo-accomplished foreigners, in smoking Tobacco through a weaker and more feminine article, which has been most delicately denominated cigarette. Despite such opposition to tobacco, the twentieth century saw a rise in its use.

Consumer demand established tobacco farming as an important part of North Carolina farm life. NC State, through its College of Agriculture and the Agricultural Extension program, researched tobacco and aided farmers around the world. Farmers received important information from NC State. Blue mold probably existed in the western United States for many years as a minor disease on wild species of tobacco. It came east in 1921 but disappeared for ten years before resurfacing in 1931. It is caused by a fungus that attacks tobacco.

Types of Tobacco:

Faculty such as Professor R. R. Bennett traveled extensively to study foreign tobacco. In 1957 he took a trip to Africa, India, and Australia, which indicates the extent that cultivation of tobacco has spread.

Advertisements for cigarettes appeared in various campus publications such as State College News, The Wolfpack Gridiron, The Wataugan, football programs, and the Technician. From the University Archives.

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Tobacco in Business and Industry

Tobacco: A Growth Industry

The earliest European settlers in the Jamestown colony discovered that tobacco made for a profitable export. Tobacco was a valuable commodity from the onset of colonization in North America, and was often used as currency. It even helped finance the American Revolution, serving as collateral for loans from Europe. In the early 17th century, planters refined the crop, importing seeds from Caribbean and South American varieties to develop plants that pleased their European consumers. Before 1760, when Pierre Lorillard established a company to mass produce pipe tobacco, cigars, and snuff, the majority of tobacco products used by the colonists was processed in England or Scotland or made in small local factories. With the growing popularity of smoking, other manufacturing plants soon appeared.

An increasing penchant for small paper-rolled cigars popular in Spain prompted Phillip Morris to market the first American hand-rolled cigarettes in 1847, and soon other companies like J. E. Liggett & Brothers were manufacturing their own cigarettes. In 1875 R. J. Reynolds began to produce chewing tobacco.

Technological advances and new machinery allowed tobacco companies to increase production in the latter half of the 19th century, and by the early 1900's cigarettes and cigars were the most prevalent tobacco products available.

The market exploded during the First World War (1914–1918). World War II (1939–1945) saw cigarette sales hit record highs with theproduction of several popular brands, Camel, Lucky Strike, and Pall Mall. In the 1950's, Kent, Winston, and Salem, the first filter-tipped menthol cigarette, entered the market and became top sellers. Despite negative advertising promoted in the 1960's and 1970's, as well as the current lawsuits filed against tobacco companies, the industry continues to flourish. Tobacco products are widely marketed outside the United States, allowing tobacco its place as a valuable commodity for export in the American economy.

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Tobacco in Culture

The tobacco plant has captivated the imaginations of artists, poets, craftsmen, and musicians at least as long as history has recorded its existence. Early Aztec frescos in Mexico illustrated ancient myths in which gods bequeathed tobacco to mortals. Rituals involving tobacco were sacred to ancient peoples throughout the Americas, and their instruments of ceremony were lovingly crafted. José de Acosta, a Spanish Jesuit missionary dispatched to Peru in 1571, recorded some of the earliest and most vivid descriptions of Native South American life European readers had yet seen. De natura novi orbis libri duo (Salamanca, 1588-1589) was followed by a more illustrious work, Historia natural y moral de las Indias (Seville, 1590) in which the native use of tobacco was described in detail. This popular work was published in Spanish and quickly translated into Italian, French, Dutch, German, Latin and English, thus augmenting a budding European taste for the new plant and its attendant rituals.

Once Spanish and English explorers introduced their countrymen to the new plant, the use of tobacco became vogue in sixteenth-century Europe. Social conventions of smoking tobacco and "taking" snuff soon inspired beautifully designed pipes and snuff boxes. Interest in the smoking practices of other cultures spread as Europeans traversed the globe, and these were noted and incorporated into the burgeoning culture of tobacco. Tobacco was most likely introduced to Africa by Portugese slave traders in the 16th century via Brazil. William Finch, an English trader with the Dutch East India Company, observed that the denizons of Sierra Leone, men and women, not only smoked but also cultivated tobacco in plots around their homes. Enlivened trade with India in this period acquainted the European explorers with the water pipe, which was used to smoke a blend of tobacco mixed with fragrant herbs such as rose and sandalwood.

Tobacco has been the target of temperance movements as long as it has been championed by its proponents. Many early chroniclers of tobacco use noted that it had many medicinal functions on the American continents. But repeated habitual indulgence in tobacco products proved to be harmful to people and curative claims ceased. Stories, songs, and works of art have continued to document and celebrate or condemn tobacco ever since.

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Tobacco in Entomology and Botany

Tobacco and Entomology at NC State

Hornworms, wireworms, cutworms, aphids, budworms, weevils—these and other pests have continuously plagued North Carolina tobacco farmers and their crops. In the last century, thanks to research conducted on the campus of NC State and in extension laboratories throughout the state, entomologists and farmers have worked together to identify the problems, assess the damages, and implement controls on the injurious insects that hinder tobacco production. In the 1889 announcement book for the new College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, the entry for the "Horticulture, Arboriculture and Botany" department listed "the study of insect pests of all kinds, both in agriculture and horticulture, and the best way to deal with them" as an imperative course for new students. Control of tobacco pests has continued to be an important pursuit on campus, through organizations such as the North Carolina Tobacco Foundation and the various programs of the Cooperative Extension Service.

Botany and Tobacco at NC State

Tobacco, one of the most prominent crops grown by natives of North Carolina in the 1500's, has intrigued botanists ever since their first encounter with what they called the "divine herb." Materials collected by George Arents and now housed in the New York Public Library show that European scientists began applying their techniques of classification as soon as they were introduced to the bewitching new plant. At NC State, researchers in plant pathology and crop science have worked to develop stronger crops and target the diseases that have attacked tobacco throughout the years. Their efforts have helped farmers weather debilitating economic and environmental conditions to produce higher-yielding crops and, in turn, have played a significant part in establishing tobacco as the highest grossing crop in North Carolina.

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Farm Life and Tobacco

A lot of work goes into growing tobacco. The process is an intensive, tedious, year-round occupation, and for many years involved a series of grueling operations largely done by hand. Literature dealing with the subject of tobacco culture from the seventeenth century to the present is replete with complaints about the laborious nature of tobacco farming. The process has been updated; tasks such as harvesting tobacco, formerly done by hand, are now done with mechanical tobacco harvesters.

Seeds are sown in beds with meticulous care. An ounce of seed planted in 100 square yards can produce 3 to 4 acres of flue cured tobacco or 2 to 3 acres of Burley. After six to ten weeks, the seedlings are transplanted to fields that have been combed clean. Plants are "topped" before the seed head develops, except for those needed to provide seeds for the next year. Farmers remove the suckers or "sucker" the plants and must contend with hornworms. Tobacco is also dependent on the weather. Too much rain, too much sun, or a hailstorm can destroy a crop. The position of leaves on the stalk controls their properties and their commercial value. Growers of flue-cured tobacco recognize two grades, leaf and lugs. Lugs are the leaves on the lower half of the plant. The process of "priming" or picking individual leaves off the stalks is a common form of harvesting for flue-cured tobacco. In preparation for market, leaves are sorted. Sales by auction at warehouses have been the means of selling tobacco since the 1840's.

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Tobacco in Literature

Tobacciana Literature Books in this exhibit are housed in the Rare Books Collection of the Special Collections Research Center, or in the general collection of the NCSU Libraries. Tobacco use and abuse have fascinated writers for centuries. Despite ongoing debates between smokers and nonsmokers, governments and corporations, tobacco has enjoyed a place in the pages of novels, satires, rhymes, poetry, plays, and essays. Throughout history, pipes, cigars, snuff, and cigarettes have played the role of enticing devil or trusted confidant, of deadly disabler or delicious enabler. For as long as tobacco has engaged the attention of society, the weed and its users have found their place in literature, coming to characterize glamor, danger, or humor. To this day, the act of smoking still captivates an audience, allowing tobacco its continued popularity in literature.

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Items used for Bright Leaves: Tobacco Materials from the Collections of NCSU Libraries are from the Manuscript Collection, the University Archives, and the Rare Book Collection in the Special Collections Research Center. Some of the books were selected from the general stacks at NCSU Libraries.

Exhibit team: Caroline Weaver, Sara Bell, and Cilla Golas

Web exhibit design: Caroline Weaver

Web exhibit text: Caroline Weaver and Sara Bell

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