It was 1880, and a young man named James Duke was about to start a new business within the tobacco industry known as ready, rolled cigarettes. Two years earlier, he met another young man named James Bonsack, who was perfecting the first-ever cigarette rolling machine. Duke felt that his tobacco followers, who mostly were cigar and pipe tobacco enthusiasts, would also desire pre-rolled cigarettes.
Bonsack’s invention, without doubt, revolutionized the cigarette industry forever. His cigarette rolling machine could crank out over 150,000 smokes per day, where previously, they were hand-rolled by girls who could roll about 200 per shift.
One of the big problems was that they produced more cigarettes than what they could sell, leaving Duke with the task of figuring out how to sell more and to whom. Duke gave out cigarettes for free at beauty contests and also advertised in magazines. He created cigarette cards to showcase his product and spent nearly $800,000 on advertising, which would be about $25 million today.
Bonsack has the rights to his patent, but since Duke helped him get it off the ground and in use, he offered Duke a 30% discount on the lease. This advantage for Duke allowed him to make a more significant profit, and he was right when tobacco lovers started buying pre-rolled cigarettes. They favored them over cigars, which were considered un-sanitary being rolled with human hands and saliva.
For the next several years until 1900, cigarette smoking quadrupled, but it remained a niche market with most tobacco being chewed or smoked via a cigar or with a pipe.