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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Southwestern Ohio Tobacco Growers Saw Some Tough Times

Dallas Bogan on 29 July 2004
Dallas Bogan, Warren County, Ohio and Beyond (Bowie Maryland: Heritage Press, 1979) page 384
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We have all heard and possibly discussed the controversy over the tobacco industry and its growing trend toward oblivion. However, rather than getting involved in the politics of the subject, we shall concentrate on the founding and the growing of the product in the Miami Valley.
Tobacco was originally a product of the tropics. Seed was transported to the North American continent by the different Indian tribes. The early tribes looked upon tobacco as a special gift from the Great Spirit. It was crushed into powder, and in time of drought, scattered to the winds that the Almighty should send them rain. The tribal medicinal trait was that it was taken for periods of pain, sorrow, happiness and gratitude.
A general plan or method of planting tobacco by the tribes was that they planted the seed in the soil of their gardens, which were situated near the wigwams. The area covered was from one hundred to two hundred square feet. When the plants matured, leaves were stripped from the stalks and placed in the sun to dry. After the drying process, the leaves were crumbled together and used for pipe tobacco.
The early colonist upon their arrival in Virginia first observed tobacco. Cultivation of tobacco by the white settlers soon lent to their social, economic and political development.
It appears that growing of cigar leaf in Ohio dates back to 1797, but the settlers for their own use grew only small quantities.
About the year 1838, a Mr. Pomeroy brought from his home State of Connecticut to Montgomery County some tobacco seed. He immediately experimented with his new seed in the vicinity of Hole's Creek, near Centerville. So successful was his achievement that his neighbors gradually adopted the cultivation of tobacco.
Until 1850 the crop was confined to Montgomery County, however, in that year it was introduced into Greene County (some farmers in the neighborhood of Alpha began to grow it), and in other surrounding counties such as Warren, Preble, Miami, etc. A small quantity was raised in Butler County in Dick's Creek valley.
The census for the year 1850 reported 2590 pounds for Butler County, 1460 pounds for Clinton County, 135 pounds for Champaign County, 7132 pounds for Darke County, 2500 pounds for Miami County, 50 pounds for Preble County, and 2601 pounds for Warren County. Montgomery County, for the same year, reported 195,971 pounds, or about 500 cases, which indicated that tobacco had become a staple crop in this district.
The total crop grown in the Miami Valley in 1850 and 1851 amounted to about 2000 cases, and in succeeding years the production had risen to 4000 cases. All the crops were marketed in New York. Prices in 1850 brought from 9 to 10 cents a pound, but the harvest in 1851 averaged only 4 1/2 cents a pound. Growing of tobacco in this time period is reported to have been grown on the soils in the river or stream bottoms. There was no effort to grow a fine quality of leaf, the main object being to produce a large yield, which was used mostly for binders and wrappers for cheap cigars. Ultimately the dealers demanded a finer leaf and the river bottomlands were eventually given up as producers of tobacco. Consequently, the rolling uplands were used to a large extent for growing the famous cigar filler.
Early Ohio tobacco growers were inferior in their knowledge of curing their crop. They experienced great losses every year due to damage from mold and the pole rot. The reasons were attributed to poor construction of the curing sheds and the lack of sufficient barn room at harvest time. Nature seemed to have done its job by supplying a suitable climate, excellent ground conditions, a proper growing season, but, due to the farmer's haste in these early times, handling led to insufficient production.
Until 1870 seed leaf variety was about the only kind grown in the Miami Valley. However, some Yara seed was sent to the valley, which, owing to the properties of the soil and condition of the climate, developed into a variety known as Dutch tobacco.
In 1876, a Wisconsin grower secured seed from Havanna and after meeting with success in growing it, sent some seed to a Mr. Zimmer of Miamisburg, who distributed it amongst the growers of the vicinity. Cultivation was successful and Zimmer Spanish was at the time one of the leading varieties.
The crop of 1906, which was of an inferior quality, managed to sell at high prices. At that time the field was flooded with buyers, they being rated as good to poor. Appearance of the crop was one of excellence, but when housed it contracted many diseases, shed burn, black rot, etc. The buyer was not pleased with what he had bought; diseases and handling were the direct culprits.
The writer never worked in the tobacco fields, but I can still remember the different locations in which they existed. I'm sure many of the readers can relate to their own growing or working experiences in the yellow fields.

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