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Track Neighbors in Cigar Making
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2020-07-28

            Cigar making employed thousands of workers during the early part of the 1900s.  Factories were plentiful in our region.  Most were owned by big city businessmen who saw the dedicated workers in the area as the source of an inexpensive labor market. 

The Pennsburg cigar making factories of Theobold-Oppenheimer and Otto Eisen-

ohr were located on Fourth Street, directly across the railroad tracks from each

other.  At the time, both buildings were owned by the Pennsburg Realty Company.

            Back then, the Upper Perkiomen Valley was known as a "cigar town" because of the number of factories and workers devoted to the trade.  From Spinnerstown to Gilbertsville, and our small towns in-between, the region boasted more than 14 cigar factories during this time.  There were 621 total in Pennsylvania.  They were located in 36 of the 77 counties at the time.

            According to "Montgomery County-The Second Hundred Years", at one time

The vacant three-story building that once housed the Eisenlohr

cigar factory was destroyed by a fire in August of 1961.  Firefight-

ers from Pennsburg, East Greenville and Red Hill fought the blaze

that began in the basement of the building and eventually engulfed

the entire building.

90 percent of the families in this area were engaged in cigar making.

            When we take a look at the history of the industry in this area, our first thoughts are of two giants in the business back then:  the large factory in East Greenville of Otto Eisenlohr or the equally large structure of Scultzberger-Oppenhiemer in Red Hill – both conveniently located along the railroad for ease of receiving tobacco and shipping their finished products.

            Overlooked sometimes is the unusual instance of the larger competitors and their factories in Pennsburg.  Located on opposite sides of the railroad tracks on Fourth Street, and right across the street from the American House Hotel, employees could literally shake hands going to work every day.

            Eisenlohr Brothers were already operating a large factory in East Greenville when they opened their factory in Pennsburg in the spring of 1912.  The "satellite" factory employed 50 workers.

            On the other side of the railroad tracks was the Theobald and Oppenheimer Cigar Factory, which closed in April of 1912 and opened in July of 1912.

            Confused?  The building that housed Theobald-Oppenheimer was owned by the Pennsburg Realty Company.  When the factory closed in April, 140 cigar-makers were

The former home of Oppenheimer, and later the Veterlein Cigar

Company, then the Daroff and Son Company and finally the

Perkiomen is now home to the Upper Perkiomen Valley

Community Thrift Shop.

suddenly unemployed. 

            With the recent passing of Mr. Oppenheimer and the purchase of the company by United Cigar Company, the new owners assured everyone that business would go on as usual.  But, a few days later United Cigar announced the closing because the location posed a "losing proposition."  Some of the workers opted to go to other former Oppenheimer, now United, cigar factories in Milford Square, Trumbauersville and Telford.

            Then, on July 20, 1912, Theobald-Oppenheimer (now under United ownership) sent their general manager, John R. Kulp to meet with the representatives of the Pennsburg Realty Company to talk about reopening the factory.

            A week later, the plant reopened with about 75 workers but advertised that 200 would eventually be needed.  The building was later used as a cigar box factory. 

            The two giant cigar makers thrived for a couple of decades in the next-door-neighbor situation without a hint of animosity among the workers.  After all, many of these neighbors at work were also neighbors at home.

            By 1924 cigar making machines started replacing the local handmade labor.  By the early 1930s cigar making around here disappeared.

            When the cigar industry waned, the buildings eventually evolved into a pants factory and a shoe factory.  The Quaker Shoe factory, formerly the home of Oppenheimer, and now vacant, was razed by a devastating fire in 1961.

            The former home of Eisenlohr, and later the Veterlein Cigar Company, then the Daroff and Son Company and finally the Perkiomen Clothing Company is now home to the Upper Perkiomen Valley Community Thrift Shop.


 

 

 

 

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