LIMA — As the spring of 1903 approached in Lima, the intersection of South Main and Elm streets was bustling, with new buildings rising opposite each other. “These buildings will add much to the improved appearance of the locality in which they are situated,” Lima’s Times-Democrat opined on Feb. 9, 1903.
On the northeast corner, the Pabst Brewing Co., of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was constructing a two-story brick building which would house a café on the bottom floor.
Nice, but no cigars. Those would be made directly across the street, where the Hawisher Brothers were throwing up a four-story building. The Hawisher Brothers — Henry, John Henry and Edward — had come to Lima from New Bremen around the turn of the century. Besides dabbling in real estate, the brothers ran grocery and dry goods stores.
The brothers had purchased the property the previous spring. On May 19, 1902, the Lima Times-Democrat reported that Lima attorney and developer J.O. Ohler “has sold to Hawisher Brothers the 60-foot frontage at the northwest corner of Main and Elm streets. The consideration was $60,000.”
By that fall the building’s major tenant was known. “Hawisher Brothers, who are preparing to build a large business block at the corner of Main and Elm streets, are considering a proposition from representatives of the American Tobacco Co. to occupy the building with a branch factory of the company,” the Times-Democrat reported.
The American Tobacco Co. was founded by James B. and Benjamin N. Duke in North Carolina in 1890. Through purchases and mergers, the brothers by 1911 controlled virtually the entire American tobacco industry. That year the conglomerate was judged in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and ordered dissolved. American, R.J. Reynolds, Liggett & Myers and Lorillard were the main manufacturers to emerge. The American Tobacco Co.’s factory in Lima would be called the American Cigar Co.
“The American Cigar Company’s factory, four stories in height with a basement, is located at the northwest corner of Main and Elm streets. The basement is devoted to the storage and handling of the raw material — the leaf tobacco — and here is stored, ready for use, filler and wrapper stock,” according to a contemporary history. “This factory is supplied with excellent light and ventilation, while the effect of the action of the air-suction machine is to take up and carry off all the dust and impure air of the work room, thus clearing and purifying the atmosphere.”
On March 10, 1903, the Times-Democrat noted that “work upon the Hawisher Brothers’ large business block at the corner of Main and Elm streets is rapidly nearing completion. When finished, it will be occupied by the American Tobacco Co. They will employ several hundred persons. It is thought that a number of persons will have to be brought from other cities as a sufficient number cannot be obtained in this city.”
As in most tobacco factories of the time, including Lima’s Deisel-Wemmer, that work force would be comprised mainly of women. The American Tobacco Co. ran ads in Lima’s newspapers seeking “industrious girls to learn the cigar trade,” and promising that “girls are well paid while learning.”
In her book “Once a Cigar Maker: Men, Women and Work Culture in American Cigar Factories, 1900-1919,” author Patricia Cooper wrote that some manufacturers preferred women for their “innate skill and nimbleness” in rolling cigars, while others liked women who, because they didn’t tend to smoke cigars, also didn’t tend to filch them from the cigar makers. Another employer,” Cooper wrote, simply preferred hiring women “because they were always here on Monday morning.”
In Lima, Cooper noted, employers “hoped to recruit workers from nearby areas as well as the town and used paternalistic policies to win over doubtful parents. Superintendent Robert Plate (of Deisel-Wemmer) often spoke of company policies in public speeches before local groups. He explained that the company felt it was ‘our duty’ to develop ‘high standards of morality’ among workers so that ‘parents will urge young people to seek employment there.’”
The American Cigar Co., which began production in April 1903, took a more concrete step. “The local managers of the American Tobacco Co. at the corner of Main and Elm streets have installed a piano on the third floor of their factory (the machine room) and every afternoon is devoted to music, which is enjoyed by the employees,” the Times-Democrat wrote Sept. 24, 1903.
Less than two years later, deep in the bleak winter of 1905, with about 20 houses in Lima under quarantine for smallpox, the city’s health board shut down the town hoping to prevent a widespread outbreak of the often fatal, nearly always disfiguring disease.
“The wrestling match announced for Faurot’s opera house two weeks from tonight has died a borning,” the Lima Daily News bemoaned Feb. 17, 1905. “In fact there will be nothing whatever doing until after March 8, the health board at a meeting last night closing all public places for a period of 21 days.”
“All public places” included the Deisel-Wemmer and American Tobacco companies’ factories in downtown Lima, the newspaper added.
On March 9, with the specter of a smallpox outbreak passed, the ban was lifted and the News enthusiastically announced that “Lima has again assumed her normal condition, and with even a hint of spring weather the town will simply boom.”
The town simply did, as did Deisel-Wemmer, which was founded in Lima by German immigrant Henry Deisel in the 1880s and was located at 435 N. Main St., a half dozen blocks north of the American Cigar Co. factory. The American Cigar Co., on the other hand, was shuttered shortly after spring turned into summer that year, barely two years after opening.
“Manager Kleinberger, of the American Cigar Factory, at the corner of Elm and Main streets, this morning laid off most of the force on advice from headquarters in New York. The factory will be closed indefinitely on account of slack business. The shutdown will throw out of employment about 400 people,” the Daily News reported June 26, 1905. “However, in another column of this paper, will be found an advertisement in which Deisel, Wemmer and Company advertise for 200 girls, having just completed an addition to their extensive factory at the corner of Main Street and the Pennsylvania railroad.”
In March 1906, the Daily News reported the Lima Watch Co. would move into the Hawisher building, but the Lima Watch Co. never materialized and that deal fell through. On April 3, 1907, almost exactly four years after the American Cigar factory opened in the Hawisher building, Deisel-Wemmer opened a branch factory in the building. “All girls wanting work are urged to apply at the office in said building,” the Daily News wrote.
Deisel-Wemmer became Deisel-Wemmer-Gilbert in the 1920s and grew until it owned or rented 17 plants and employed 4,000 workers. DWG merged local operations in a Bath Township plant in the early 1960s. In 1967, workers at the Bath Township plant formed RG Dun and bought 55 percent of the local production. RG Dun moved back to the downtown Lima plant in 1968. It closed in 1990.
A Family Dollar store now stands on the site of the Hawisher Building.
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.