The tobacco trade, a booming American industry, received much demand from overseas markets. Hernsheim was eager to satisfy their want.
Initially focusing his business as an exporter to Europe, South America, and Central America, the primary destination for his tobacco was the U.K., Germany, and Mexico.
During the ensuing years, Hernsheim’s humble tobacco business quickly grew and prospered.
A mere 4 years later the American Civil War erupted. Being a southerner with sympathies to the Confederacy, Hernsheim enlisted in the rebel army as a Louisiana volunteer. For the duration of the war, Hernsheim’s business remained on hold.
Emergence and Prolific Growth of Firm
At war’s end, Hernsheim returned to New Orleans, and relaunched his business. Continuing the success from the firm’s earlier years, his younger brother Isidore joined the firm, at the mere age of 14. Despite becoming a partner, the younger brother continued his education by working during the day and attending school at night.
Slowly but steadily Hernsheim’s firm expanded. Where once the company had started out as an exporter, the business had become a manufactory, with its own line of fine-cut chewing tobaccos, hand-rolled cigars, and well-made cigarettes.
Demand for his finished products mushroomed domestically, and year over year the firm began shipping its goods to more and more states.
By the early 1880s the firm had grown into an enormous operation. Having outgrown its existing factory, the brothers commissioned the construction of a new plant located at the corner of Julia and Magazine Streets. Built with a frontage of 130 x 120 feet and boasting five-stories, the massive new building opened in 1882.
The volume of tobacco that the firm consumed to make its products was staggering. In one year alone, the company purchased 3,000 bales of tobacco from Havana and Amsterdam. From Ohio and Kentucky over 1,000 hogsheads were acquired. And from New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin the firm received over 5,000 cases of domestic tobaccos.
Eventually Hernsheim’s youngest brother also entered the business, and by 1886 the firm was reorganized again. Under the name S. Hernsheim Brothers & Co, its owners consisted of Simon, Isidore, and Joseph Hernsheim, as well as Sigmund Belmont, an unrelated fourth partner.
A mere one year later, the firm boasted the following statistics:
Largest Cigar Maker in the United States
By 1891 the firm’s cigar output was the largest in the United States. The company’s products were marketed and sold in every state in the county. Its cigar brands included Mardi Gras, La Belle Creole, Lothar, Exposition, and Jackson Square. In fact, the firm was so successful that the company paid taxes in excess of $256,000 to the United States government. Its employee roster had doubled, and grown from 1100 to 2,187.
In the same year, the partners decided to spin-off their cigarette business, and they sold it to the American Tobacco Company of New York. Their former brands had included El Belmont, Belle Creole, Crescent City, and Imperials.
In 1895 Simon Hernsheim experienced personal tragedy. Both his wife Ida and his sister Henrietta died. The next three years he experienced extreme depression and grief. In January 1898 he committed suicide by ingesting cyanide.
For the next few years the firm continued operations, however the firm quickly began to fade.
Acquisition & Child Labor
By 1904 the entire firm had been acquired by the American Tobacco Company. Operating as a branch subsidiary of the firm, the factory remained in New Orleans. However, after its purchase the firm’s employee demographics changed.
Where it appears S. Hernsheim and his partners tended to employ older workers by virtue of surviving photographs, the American Tobacco Company prolifically utilized child labor in its factories.
In 1910 Lewis Hine visited several of the American Tobacco Company’s operations. In Petersburg, Virginia he documented dozens of little girls and boys working and helping; some as young as 11 years old. And in Wilmington, Delaware he found girls younger than 14 years working 10 hours a day 6 days per week.
As was casually reported in 1904, it seems this practice was no different for its New Orleans operation.
David Schenkman lists four known token emissions from the S. Hernsheim Brothers & Co tobacco company. All struck in celluloid, they are listed in the following table:
Below is a Schenkman LA605-H6a. Possessing Extra Fine Details, it is estimated that the specimen was struck sometime in the early 1890s.
Notes and Sources
- New Orleans and the New South, Andrew Morrison, Metropolitan Publishing Co, 1888, pgs.62-63
- Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Louisiana, Goodspeed Publishing Co, 1892, pgs.473-474
- Cigar Makers’ Official Journal, Volumes 28, July 15th 1904, pg.12
- ‘Remembering New Orleans History, Culture and Traditions,’ Ned Hemard, New Orleans Bar Association
- Building Historical Photos, DK&S Deutsch, Kerrigan & Stiles
- Merchant Tokens of Hard Rubber Tokens And Similar Compositions, David E. Schenkman, TAMS, 1991, pg.56
- ‘Groups of girls workers at the gate of the American Tobacco Co., Wilmington, Delaware,’ noon period, May 24, 1910, Lewis Hine, Library of Congress
- ‘A few of the youngsters working in the Cigarette Factory of the American Tobacco Co., at Petersburg, Va,’ 1910, Lewis Hine, Library of Congress