VIEW-24673 | Display of cigarette cases for Desbarats Printing, 1929

Display of cigarette cases for Desbarats Printing, 1929
Wm. Notman & Son
1929, 20th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
25 x 20 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Miscellaneous (671) , Photograph (77678)
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Keys to History

The rapid adoption of cigarette smoking offers one of the most dramatic examples of the democratic spread of cheap consumer goods in the boom years of 1896-1919. In the nineteenth century men chewed tobacco or smoked cured tobacco in pipes or as cigars. The paper-wrapped cigarette was a luxury good for the rich; a skilled cigarette-maker could hand roll only 3,000 cigarettes a day. The invention of the Bonsack cigarette machine in the 1880s meant that cigarettes could be produced continuously by machine. Costs plummeted and profits soared. American James B. Duke's American Tobacco Company was soon flooding the market with cheap smokes; a Bonsack machine could roll, paste and cut 120,000 cigarettes a day. Advertising, branding and packaging meant that rich and poor alike could find a cigarette suited to their taste and status.

Montreal dominated Canadian tobacco. Entrepreneurs like Sir William Macdonald and Sir Mortimer Davis opened huge factories to produce cigars, cigarettes and pipe tobacco. In 1919 Canadian factories delivered just under three billion cigarettes and 209 million cigars. Production was integrated, from the tobacco fields through curing to production and marketing.

  • What

    The cigarette was the classic example of mass-produced precision. The production process remained constant, while changes in the quality of tobacco and the pitch of the advertising directed the product to different types of consumer. Advertisers portrayed cigarette as socially glamorous; women soon took up the habit.

  • Where

    While tobacco production was concentrated in Montreal, cigarette smoking conquered the nation from coast to coast and permeated all strata of society. Tobacco factories became sites of low-wage employment, often drawing women into the industrial labour force.

  • When

    In 1919 Canadian cigarette factories delivered just under three billion cigarettes and 209 million cigars.

  • Who

    Sir Mortimer Davis (1864-1928) Imperial Tobacco Company of Montreal was put together through the merging of small tobacco companies. Sir William Macdonald's (1831-1917) Macdonald Tobacco Company began as a wholesaler of Kentucky tobacco in the 1850s. Both men lived well and gave generously to charity - Macdonald, for instance, to McGill University.