Without Whisky, Cigar Sales Tumbled

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Workers filed into their seats at the thriving factory to start the 11-hour shift. From 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. in downtown Kingston, the men and the teenage boys and girls manually processed tobacco leaves into fine-quality cigars.

Cigar smoking was surprisingly big business in Canada in the mid-1800s, and the local tobacconists were up to the challenge.

“Consumption per capital increased from 1,804 pounds in 1861 to 1,985 pounds in 1871,” according to editors Harold A. Innes and Arthur R.M. Lower in “The Tobacco Industry” in Select Documents in Canadian Economic History 1783-1885 (University of Toronto Press 1933). “The consumption of Canadian leaf increased rapidly after 1880-1,” added Innes and Lower. Several factories supplied the region, the most prominent owners being George A. McGowan and Simon Oberndorffer.

Emigrating from Bavaria, Germany, Oberndorffer (born 1830) set foot first in New York. Learning the tobacco trade, he moved north in 1857, one of the first of the Jewish faith to make Kingston home. “The earliest records indicate that by 1865, Simon Oberndorffer, purveyor of Cigars and Tobacco, was located at Princess near Bagot, just up from what was then Hobart’s Medical Mall (155 Princess St.),” according to Stones Kingston’s “Jewish History.” At that time, the merchant varied his offerings from tobacco with jewelry and clocks.

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