Way Back Wednesday: The Cigar Factory

Way Back Wednesday

Courtesy of Clemson Historic Preservation

Charleston, S.C. (WCBD) – It’s Wednesday and that means it is time to explore the history that surrounds the Lowcountry. This week, we head to downtown Charleston to learn about The Cigar Factory.

Built in 1882 as a textile mill, the five-story building was known as the Charleston Manufacturing Company before being called the Charleston Cotton Mills. The property was leased to the American Tobacco Company in 1903 and the plant was eventually sold to them in 1912. Coined as The Cigar Factory, production lasted from 1903 to 1973.

“The factory employed large numbers of young, working-class, black and white women and men to produce the United States’ biggest-selling five-cent Certified Cremo and ten-cent Roi-Tan cigars. The heavy production of five-cent Certified Cremo brand cigars, and the youth of its workers, led to the factory’s nickname of “Cremo College.”

Lowcountry Digital Library at the College of Charleston

The South Carolina Department on Archives and History explains The Cigar Factory is significant for its contributions to Charleston’s economy from post-Reconstruction through the Great Depression and on into the 1970s; at its high point, 1.5 million cigars rolled out of the factory each day.

Throughout the early 20th century, employee’s responsibilities revolved around the production, manufacturing, and packaging of cigars. The Charleston Justice Journey says during this period, a factory employee’s duties and pay were often influenced by race and gender.

In 1945, in response to persistent racial discrimination and poor benefits, factory employees went on strike; they wanted a pay increase of 25 cents per hour and the ability to unionize to protect their civil rights. A historical marker was erected in 2013 to honor the efforts, its titled, “We Shall Overcome” and reads:

By the end of World War II the factory employed 1,400 workers, 900 of them black women. In October 1945, 1,200 workers walked out over discrimination and low wages. Strikers sang the gospel hymn “I’ll Overcome Someday.” Later revised as “We Shall Overcome,” it would become the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. The strike ended in March 1946 with a settlement giving workers raises and promising better treatment.”

the historical marker database

The Cigar Factory was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. In 2014, a privately held real estate investment company purchased the Cigar Factory. The property has since been transformed into a multi-functional building and event space.

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