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RVA Legends — Imperial Tobacco Company

A look into the history of Richmond places and people that have disappeared from our landscape.

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[RVCJ03] — showing Stemmery & Warehouse at Sixth & Main SW

102-116 South Sixth Streets (Warehouse & Stemmery)

  • Built, between 1877 – 1896
  • Demolished, unknown

118-120 South Sixth Street (Office)

  • Built, 1904
  • Demolished, after 1977

The British tobacco bully-boys. What’s wrong with a little friendly competition?

(Duke University Libraries) — James Buchanan Duke

This is one of the quaint stories of the Gilded Age, those good old days when men were men and trusts were normal.

The American Tobacco Company (ATC) set aside a massive 30 million dollars to buy up British tobacco companies one by one at the start of the 20th century. The key figure was James Buchanan Duke, head of ATC, whose aggressive methods had created a virtual monopoly for the company in the US. Individually, British companies, even those of the size of WD & HO Wills and John Player & Sons, could not survive.

When Duke arrived in Liverpool in 1901, he walked into Ogden’s factory and bought on the spot. Duke then approached other British companies and is reported to have burst in on the Player brothers, saying: “Hello, boys. I’m Duke from New York, come to take over your business.” He was politely shown the door, an experience repeated at other companies. Facing such resistance, he paused for reflection.

This pause gave 13 family-run businesses, led by Wills, Players and Lambert & Butler, time to meet and, in December 1901, The Imperial Tobacco Company (Great Britain and Ireland) Limited was formed. (Imperial Tobacco)

[RVCH03] — Wellford C. Reed

[RVCH03] — Wellford C. Reed

Duke’s bluster would come back to haunt him, and it wasn’t long until the fight was brought directly to American Tobacco’s doorstep.

According to information received in the city, Mr. A. F. Thomas of Lynchburg, who, along with Mr. Wellford C. Reed, of this city, was appointed to represent the Imperial Tobacco Company in this country, will remove to this city and will establish himself here. He as sold out his place in Lynchburg and is preparing to make a change in his residence. It is understood that he will come here tomorrow, though hardly to settle here so soon. This will probably be a preliminary visit, with a view to securing residence, office, &c.

(Pinterest) — tin of Repeater, fine cut mild smoking tobacco, product of Imperial Tobacco Company of Montreal, Canada

(Pinterest) — tin of Repeater, fine cut mild smoking tobacco, product of Imperial Tobacco Company of Montreal, Canada

The determination of Mr. Thomas to locate here casts more mystery than ever over the plans of the Imperial Company with reference to this country. When he and Mr. Reed were appointed it was thought that the two would divide the territory between them, Mr. Reed looking after Virginia and the Carolinas and Mr. Thomas the West, or vice versa. This arrangement seems to be knocked in the head by Mr. Thomas’ action in locating here. It may be, however, that he will undertake to conduct the Western business from this point. One thing seems to be signified by the coming of Mr. Thomas to this city, namely: that Richmond will in reality be the American headquarters of the Imperial. [RT19020315]

[RVCJ03] — James N. Boyd

[RVCJ03] — James N. Boyd

They started by taking over the buildings of James N. Boyd, a former leaf tobacco broker who’d found a new occupation as President of the Planters Bank and Virginia Trust Company. His warehouse and stemmery commanded most of the western block of Sixth Street between Cary and Canal Streets, a clear finger in the face to Duke, whose American Tobacco buildings stood right across the street.

(Library of Congress) — Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Richmond (1905) — Plate 11 — showing 102-116 South Sixth Street locations

(Library of Congress) — Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Richmond (1905) — Plate 11 — showing 102-116 South Sixth Street locations

Nor did it take long for Imperial to make its presence known, leaning hard on its British brethren to not do business with American Tobacco.

London, March 21 — At a meeting of the Edinburg Association of Retail Tobacconists, to-day, a resolution was adopted unanimously declining to sign the Imperial Tobacco Company’s agreement not to sell American goods for a term of years, but expressing a willingness, if the minimum price is raised so as to allow a fair profit to the dealers, to do what is possible, bonus or no bonus, for the sake of British goods. The chairman declared that no one outside a lunatic asylum would sign such an agreement, which would make them the servants of the Imperial Tobacco Company. While the Americans offered a large bonus, no restrictions were placed upon the dealers. [RD19020322]

Indeed, the London tobacconists felt that Imperial Tobacco Company offer “out-Americanized the Americans” and was “unjust and unfair to the dealers, and un-English.”

May 2019 — looking towards 102-116 South Sixth Street today

May 2019 — looking towards 102-116 South Sixth Street today

Such resistance had limits, as Imperial continued to come out swinging, with two announcements in May alone.

The Universal Tobacco Company of this country, it is learned, will work with the Imperial Tobacco Company, of Great Britain, against their common foe, the American Tobacco Company, through a co-operative alliance altogether different from what has bee supposed.

The scheme of co-operation, according to the information received, is to have the Universal Tobacco Company become the selling agents for the Imperial in the country and the Imperial for the Universal in England and Europe.

Such an alliance would be an exceedingly strong one and would be hard to beat. [RT19020511]

[RTD19040177] — Plans for Imperial Tobacco Company’s Splendid Office Building, Sixth and Cary — Richmond Times-Dispatch, Sunday, January 17, 1904

[RTD19040177] — Plans for Imperial Tobacco Company’s Splendid Office Building, Sixth and Cary — Richmond Times-Dispatch, Sunday, January 17, 1904

This was followed just three days later with the announcement of the acquisition of the Well-Whitehead Tobacco Company of Wilson, North Carolina.

In July, the Richmond Dispatch announced that British tobacco dealers had been notified that the Imperial was arranging for direct imports of Virginia and Carolina leaf, effectively freezing out American firms from selling to British manufacturers. Later the same month, the Dispatch ran another story that described Imperial’s intention to compete aggressively in the Farmville market during the next tobacco-buying season.

While the general public know nothing of the merits of the alleged controversy between the Imperial and American “giants,” every farmer is in high hopes of larger profits from his labors by reason of the anticipated struggle between these companies. [RD19020713]

(Vintage Richmond) — Imperial Tobacco Company building — March 1977

(Vintage Richmond) — Imperial Tobacco Company building — March 1977

Duke tried fighting back.

Through Ogden’s, American Tobacco Company began cutting prices and offering free gifts in the UK – tactics that had served it well in the US. But Imperial frustrated ATC at every turn. It acquired the retail business of Salmon & Gluckstein and also set up a customer bonus scheme, whereby a proportion of Imperial profits was distributed among wholesale and retail customers.

After suffering heavy losses in the UK, and faced with a trade war at home, ATC was ready to talk. In September 1902 an agreement was reached – ATC surrendered Ogden’s to Imperial while Imperial abandoned plans to enter the American market, except for leaf buying. The result was the formation of the British American Tobacco Company Limited. (Imperial Tobacco)

(Vintage Richmond) — Imperial Tobacco Company doorway — March 1977

(Vintage Richmond) — Imperial Tobacco Company doorway — March 1977

The cessation of hostilities allowed Imperial the luxury of planning a brand new office building, which was constructed in 1904, right across the street from the warehouse and stemmery. Sadly, the giddy good times did not last.

In 1907, American Tobacco Company was indicted in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890. They fought it all the way to the Supreme Court, and in 1911, the justices issued their decision in United States v. American Tobacco Company, holding that American was indeed guilty of attempting to monopolize the business of tobacco in interstate commerce.

The tobacco giant was split into four smaller companies: American Tobacco Company, R. J. Reynolds, Liggett & Myers, and Lorillard. American Tobacco continued to hold the rights to sell a number of Imperial brands in the US, leaving Imperial free to export any of its other brands to the American market. (Imperial Tobacco)

May 2019 — looking toward 118-120 South Sixth Street today

May 2019 — looking toward 118-120 South Sixth Street today

Imperial may have seen the writing on the wall and elected to bail for greener pastures. A 1908 article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch discusses the company’s contemplated move to Henderson, Kentucky, and their transformation into Imperial of Kentucky. Great things were anticipated from the exploitation of the great Western tobacco belt, and they expected to construct a new rehandling plant in Henderson. [RTD19080305]

The warehouse and stemmery buildings continued to be used by Imperial as late as 1924, but the office building became a warehouse for the Western Electric Company, and then Graybar Electric by 1950.

(Imperial Tobacco Company is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


Note

The always readable Shockoe Examiner has plowed this same topic in a post from 2018. There are additional pictures and details about the office building that are worth checking out.


Print Sources

Newspapers provided by Chronicling America.

  • [RT19020315] Richmond Times. Saturday, March 15, 1902.
  • [RD19020322] Richmond Dispatch. Saturday, March 22, 1902.
  • [RT19020511] Richmond Times. Sunday, May 11, 1902.
  • [RD19020713] Richmond Times. Sunday, July 13, 1902.
  • [RTD19040177] Richmond Times-Dispatch. Sunday, January 17, 1904.
  • [RTD19080305] Richmond Times-Dispatch. Thursday, March 5, 1908.
  • [RVCJ03] Richmond, Virginia: The City on the James: The Book of Its Chamber of Commerce and Principal Business Interests. G. W. Engelhardt. 1903.

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Suspect Sought in Theft from Broad Street Building

It’s not stated by RPD but based on Tweets earlier this week we believe this is Mayor Stoney’s re-election headquarters.

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From RPD:

Richmond Police detectives are asking for the public’s help to identify the individual in the attached photos who is suspected of stealing from a building on West Broad Street on Monday.

During the early morning hours on Monday, October 12, the suspect entered the building in the 2600 block of W. Broad Street and stole a large television from the common area. The suspect was last seen heading west on Broad Street with the TV.

Anyone with information about the identity of this suspect is asked to call Fourth Precinct Detective K.L.  Robinson at (804) 646-6820 or contact Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000 or at www.7801000.com.  The P3 Tips Crime Stoppers app for smartphones may also be used.  All Crime Stoppers methods are anonymous.

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Daily Planet Health Services holding supply drive through end of October

A full list of in-demand items is available on the nonprofit’s website, but among other things, the needs include generic freezer bags (quart and gallon in size); new men’s and women’s underwear, new or gently used t-shirts and socks; prepaid phone cards and prepackaged snacks.

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In advance of colder temperatures and the winter months, Daily Planet Health Services (DPHS) will hold a supply drive throughout the month of October. Supplies collected will be distributed directly to those experiencing homelessness and patients of the nonprofit’s Medical Respite and Safe Haven programs, which offer patients a place to recuperate, re-establish and reconnect – including homeless and veteran populations.

A full list of in-demand items is available on the nonprofit’s website, but among other things, the needs include generic freezer bags (quart and gallon in size); new men’s and women’s underwear, new or gently used t-shirts and socks; prepaid phone cards and prepackaged snacks.

“Traditionally, the summer and winter months are the most difficult for those experiencing homelessness to navigate, and this time of year will be further complicated because many of the resources traditionally utilized by this population have been affected by COVID-19,” said Taylor Garrett, outreach coordinator for Daily Planet Health Services. “Many of the creature comforts that we take for granted on a day-to-day basis are inaccessible for those experiencing homelessness, and these donations will make an impact right away.”

Donated items can be brought to the nonprofits 517 W Grace St Health Center M-F from Oct. 12-30 between the hours of 8 a.m.-5 p.m. In an effort to promote social distancing within the facility, those participating are encouraged to call 804-783-2505 to notify DPHS of the delivery, and a member of the team will come out to collect the items.

“In July and August, we were absolutely heartened by the generosity and support shown by the Richmond community, who turned out and supported our work to keep the homeless population nourished and hydrated during the hottest months of the year,” said Anita Bennett, acting CEO of Daily Planet Health Services. “We truly would not be able to succeed without the support of the Richmond community, and our hope is that those around the city will come together with the common goal of continuing to assist those in need.”

Individuals and families also are encouraged to take part in service projects, and a full list of opportunities is available on the nonprofit’s website. The projects were designed to help educate and engage those who want to help in a hands-on way, but have been prevented from doing so due to the pandemic. A range of options are available, which can be completed individuals, families or groups of students, church groups or offices.

If individuals would like to assist the DPHS in this effort, but are uncomfortable with purchasing items in-store and dropping them off at the health center, fiscal donations can be tagged with “Supply Drive” in the additional comments section of the online donation form under “Donate” at dailyplanetva.org, which will be used by the nonprofit to purchase resources off of the supply list.

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Black Lives Matter renews interest in Richmond’s Black culture and history

The Black Lives Matter movement has helped renew interest in Richmond’s African American culture and history, according to community leaders.

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By Cierra Parks

The Black Lives Matter movement has helped renew interest in Richmond’s African American culture and history, according to community leaders.

BLK RVA is an initiative launched in August 2019 between Richmond Region Tourism and 20 community leaders to highlight historic African American tourist attractions and engage visitors in events that support Richmond’s Black community. The group continues to promote Black-centered tourism in light of recent events. BLK RVA was recently awarded the Richmond Region Tourism Chairman’s Award in recognition of its contributions over the past year.

Tameka Jefferson, the community relations manager for Richmond Region Tourism and BLK RVA, said the Black Lives Matter movement has generated more interest in African American tourism, which she said is “long overdue.” Although Black Lives Matter began in 2013, the movement gained more support this year.

“Now is the time that we do need to come together as a community to support our businesses, to support our city and our region,” Jefferson said.

Jefferson also said that in the months following the death of George Floyd in police custody, she has seen more people visit the area around the Robert E. Lee statue. The area has been transformed into space used by the community for art, protest and memorial — and even basketball.

She said people are migrating to this area now that there has been a “staple of just coming together and a staple of community and uprising.”

BLK RVA’s mission is to illustrate that the Richmond region has evolved and is now a multicultural hub that specializes in four pillars: arts and entertainment, food and drink, community and history. She said the state capital is often seen through its outdated history–an outlook that needs to change.

In addition to African American-centered events and fundraisers, BLK RVA promotes the patronizing of what they call “rooted and rising” businesses; ones that have been around a while and others that are up and coming.

One established business is the Elegba Folklore Society, which was established 30 years ago. The Society hosts the annual Down Home Family Reunion and Juneteenth Freedom celebrations in addition to guided heritage tours along the Trail of Enslaved Africans and other historic sites. The trail details the history of slave trade from Africa to Virginia, following a route through the area’s former slave markets and also highlighting African American life leading up to the Civil War.

Omilade Janine Bell, president and artistic director of the Elegba Folklore Society, said the company prides itself on educating people because Black stories are often not fully told. She has noticed a renewed interest in learning about Black history in light of the recent Black Lives Matter movement. Jefferson echoes that statement.

“His (George Floyd’s) loss-of-life story has opened the eyes of many whose eyes had been shut tightly before,” Bell said. “Now there is a heightened awareness among Black people and others about the lack of equity.”

Jaynell Pittman-Shaw owns Maple Bourbon, a restaurant serving breakfast and lunch in Richmond’s downtown area that is one of BLK RVA’s “rising” businesses. Pittman-Shaw believes there is a new spotlight on inequity in the Black community.

“That is what people are protesting about right now: systemic and institutional racism,” Pittman-Shaw said. “Black business owners do not have access to the same resources that should be available to any business owner,” but black businesses need more support to thrive.

Jefferson said BLK RVA donated money from online merchandise sales to the Richmond Black Restaurant Experience, which hosts a week-long event in the spring promoting black-owned food businesses. Over $15,000 was raised and distributed evenly among 35 Black Restaurant Week participants affected by COVID-19. Pittman- Shaw was one of the grantees. She plans to “pay it forward” by using the $500 grant she received to help another black-owned restaurant that did not participate in Black Restaurant Week.

Restaurants such as Big Herm’s Kitchen and Soul Taco used the money to help pay employees who were affected when COVID-19 restructured business.

The Richmond Black Restaurant Experience supports black, food-focused businesses, including restaurants, food trucks and catering services. They have raised nearly $50,000, surpassing their new goal of $25,000 according to the group’s GoFundMe page.

In addition to restaurants, other attractions have made adjustments since COVID-19 began. Many of them have migrated to virtual experiences. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Virginia Museum of History and Culture are offering virtual exhibits, including the All in Together collaborative project and Determined: The 400-Year Struggle for Black Equality. The Elegba Folklore Society broadcast its Juneteenth celebration on Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo.

The organization also recently promoted the Black is Beautiful beer initiative, a nationwide collaboration created by Marcus J. Baskerville, head brewer and co-owner at Weathered Souls Brewing Co. in San Antonio. Over 30 Virginia craft breweries participated to support people of color and raise funds for police reform and legal defense. Richmond breweries put their spin on the traditional imperial stout recipe to raise money for the Black is Beautiful cause. The Answer, Hardywood, The Veil and Lickinghole Creek were among the Richmond-area breweries that created stouts for the initiative. Each brewery will donate the proceeds to organizations that support the Black is Beautiful cause.

BLK RVA has also highlighted events such as the RVA Black Farmers Market, the Richmond Night Market and events hosted by UnlockingRVA.

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