On Friday, February 7th, I took a different kind of trip – not involving Sage, my car, but rather an airplane, to Richmond, Virginia, to visit by dear friend Nancy. I was excited to see her, and due to a small green piece of paper that I had found amongst my Grandfather’s letter, I knew I could do a little more research on the company who he worked for – Larus & Brother Company of Richmond, Virginia.
This green piece of paper, which is titled “Route List” was a big piece to solving a bit of a puzzle to me. When I first came in possession of the big box of letters, I asked both my mother and my aunt, what my Grandfather did for a living. My mother was born in 1934, so for the beginning part of these letters, she would not have been around. The letters went through 1939, which would have made her not quite five years old. I don’t think any five-year old would really know what their parents did specifically for work. My aunt was ten years younger than my mother, so she would have had no recollection of what her father did during the timeframe of those letters. My grandfather died when they were very young, so they didn’t have the time with him to fully understand his previous professions. So, they weren’t quite sure, or they thought perhaps he was an alcohol salesman. This didn’t make sense to me for the earlier letters, since the United States was in Prohibition then, which would mean that he wasn’t selling alcohol (at least during the time frame of the letters that I really was focused on). So, finding this green Route List, provided me not only with an itinerary of spots that he was staying at over a two-week period, but at the bottom of the Route List was the name: LARUS & BROTHER CO, Richmond, Va. By googling that, I found out it was a tobacco company, that was based in Richmond, but that is no longer in business.
After a summer of traveling to the spots that he had visited in 1929, there were still a lot of questions that remained in my mind. In his letters, there was a lot of mention of setting up displays in various store windows. He mentioned that materials would be shipped by train. He had received a compliment about the qualities of his displays. I wasn’t sure if he was actually selling the tobacco products or setting up the displays of the tobacco products, or a combination of both. Doing some research on an ancestry project for my sons, I found out that one resource had him listed as a window decorator, while a census had him listed as a salesman. I was curious about the job of “window decorator” during this time period. The other point that I found curious was many people living at this time period, the Great Depression, were out of work. Yet, judging from the volume of letters that I still have left to explore, my Grandfather seemed to be very employed. I wondered if the tobacco industry suffered economically during this time frame. From my visit with the tobacco farmer in Western Massachusetts, he had mentioned the very negative impact of the 2008 recession on the tobacco industry in Western Massachusetts. So, how did this little company, from Richmond, keep someone from the Boston area employed during the worst economic time period in our nation’s history? All questions remaining to be answered.
So, knowing I would be taking my annual trip down to Richmond to see Nancy, I set off to find a little more information about Larus Brothers. I found all sorts of interesting information, including Edgeworth tobacco tins for sale on E-Bay to a lot of information on the Virginia Historical Society’s Library site https://www.virginiahistory.org/collections-and-resources/how-we-can-help-your-research/researcher-resources/finding-aids/larus . Larus Brothers was founded in 1877 and was originally located on 1917 E. Franklin Street in Richmond. In 1897, the company moved to a new location at 11 South 21st Street in Richmond. This entire area is now called Tobacco Row. According to my findings, it was a smaller tobacco company, which originally just sold pipe tobacco. Their brand name was Edgeworth. In the 1930s, they expanded their business to include cigarettes, called Domino cigarettes, and expanded their distribution centers, including adding one in Boston in 1932. Around this time, Larus Brothers also expanded their business to include television and radio stations. I also found on the library website that during both world wars, the government requisitioned Larus’s entire line of production. There was a special cigarette package designed for the troops stationed in the Philippines that contained General McArthur’s famous line “I Shall Return ” along with the General’s signature. While my Grandfather did not work for the company during either of these war times, it provided me with some evidence that this company was somewhat significant in the tobacco industry.
The night before I left, I dug deeper into the Virginia Historical Society’s website and discovered that they possessed the entire corporate records (10,000 pieces) of Larus & Brother. I was hoping that maybe I might find some information, either about employees in the late 1920s, early 1930s time period or about window “decorations”. I was also hopeful that I wouldn’t need an appointment to do this research. Nancy had already located where the company was located and when I emailed her about the library, she was game to also go there. I was excited to get back into some research for this little project of mine.
After a rather bumpy ride, I arrived in Richmond. Nancy’s daughter in law works in the area of where the company was located, so Nancy knew where that was and also had a recommendation for a restaurant in the area for lunch. The 23rd & Main Kitchen and Taproom is a quaint little location, which had a varied lunch menu. Sticking with the tea theme of earlier trips, I ordered an iced tea, which was a standard tasting ice tea. Sticking with the theme of Tobacco Row, I ordered a Tobacco Row burger, which had house cured bacon with tobacco onions and American Cheese with a side salad. The burger was very tasty – the tobacco onions were basically fried onions, the bacon provided a nice compliment to the cheese, and the bun was nice and soft. After lunch, we headed back out into the blustery, blue-sky day to find the building on South 21st Street where Larus had originally been located.
This neighborhood is full of brick buildings, small little restaurants, and interesting looking shops. South 21st Street is perpendicular to East Cary Street, where we had passed former old brick factories on our way in. 11 S 21st Street was a smaller red brick building, where one alley sat to the left of the building. Beautiful restored windows were present on this building, which appeared to now be a place to live. The winds were howling, which indeed made it difficult to hang onto my green paper as well as project my voice over the winds. We could walk around to the back, where there were wrought iron balconies (maybe these were fire escapes). I wondered if they did all of the production in this building, because when we were on E.Cary Street, we passed a building that had a chimney that said Edgeworth on it. We went down to E. Cary Street to check out some more of what was called “Tobacco Row”.
If you were a company, East Cary Street sits parallel to two major benefits: train tracks and the James River. In one of my Grandfather’s letters, he discusses picking up materials that were shipped on the train. I thought perhaps the river might also be a valuable transportation route, until I found out later that the river is not all the way navigable due to rocks and rapids. But the closeness of the train would indeed make this a good spot for industries back in the day. The first building we came to, 2100 E. Cary Street, the one that had the Edgeworth written on the chimney is now an office building that hosts several different businesses, including the law office where Nancy’s daughter in law works. There are also loft style apartments as well in this building. This is called the Edgeworth Building and Edgeworth pipe tobacco was produced there starting in 1925. Larus and Brother also had their radio station broadcasting from a studio in the warehouse as well. As the company continued to grow, they had buildings on Main, 21st, 22nd, and E. Cary Street. The next building, located at 2200 to 2222 E. Carey Street, had an old sign that said Carolina Consolidated, is now home to Consolidated Carolina Lofts, that range from studio apartments to three-bedroom apartments. As we walked along E. Cary Street, there were little parks on the side of the west side of the street where there are no buildings. One building down, at 2300 E. Cary Street, was the American Cigar Company, which was established in 1901. This, too, has been converted in “historic loft apartments” in what is known as Shockhoe Bottom. The last converted factory was once home to the Lucky Strike Cigarette Factory and is now known as the Lucky Strike Lofts. I wondered when these buildings ceased being tobacco companies and by doing a little online research, I found out that the buildings were originally built in the late 1800s to early 1900s and by the 1980s, all the tobacco companies had moved out by the late 1980s. There was a new flood wall built along the James River in 1995 and after that, a Virginia developer started what is called, “adaptive re-use” of the former warehouses by creating the lofts, offices and retail space within the warehouses.
After our blustery walk down E. Cary Street, we headed for the Virginia Museum of Culture and History, home to the Virginia Historical Society’s collection of all things Virginia. As I had found, there were 10,000 items associated with Larus & Brother. Luckily, the library’s website had organized what could be found as part of this collection and what box it was located in. I had one concern that the librarians wouldn’t be able to help me without an appointment, but I guessed that I wouldn’t know if I didn’t ask. One of the things I miss most about being a doc student is researching, and walking into that library with Nancy, I once again felt like a researcher. I was asked if I had signed up as a researcher, and since I hadn’t, with a quick application and my license getting copied, I was good to get researching. In my quick research, I thought that there were records of employees, so I was really excited to see if I could find the record of my Grandfather’s employment. The first desk librarian sent me to the research librarian. Excitedly, I told him what I was looking for and after he quickly searched, he told me that the only employees were those in the 1960s, which was clearly past the timeframe that my Grandfather worked for Larus & Brother. I was somewhat disappointed, but with 10,000 items, I felt like I would find something interesting.
On the detailed list of different boxes, there were “Two scrapbooks, 1912-1935 and 1937-1946, containing newspaper and magazine ads for Edgeworth and magazine ads for Edgeworth tobacco follow box 14 Series 7. Oversize materials” looked interesting, so the research librarian filled out the request slip for me and I brought it over to the other librarian who would be fetching it from another floor of this building. My hope was that perhaps I would find some ads that may have been part of a window display. I waited a little bit and the librarian came back from the elevator, pushing a cart that held one huge book and one large book. The librarian brought over some cushions to rest the huge book on. Its pages were starting to deteriorate, the binding of the book was giving way, and it looked a lot older than 108 years old. In fact, another researcher sitting nearby quipped, it looked like the first original book ever printed. Carefully, I opened the front cover to start to explore what I might find out about Larus.
The book was indeed a scrapbook, but unlike the scrapbooks that I kept, it was full of tobacco ads, in chronological order. These first ads were designed by the George Batten Company – Advertising, which was located in New York. I did a little research into this agency and found out that he started this agency in 1891. From the website Adage.com, it described George as being “Fiercely religious and humorless, he endeavored to make his ads 100% accurate. His values and personal dignity are credited with adding respectability to the ad profession.” The firm started out very modestly – with just George Batten, a secretary, and no clients. The firm, though did prosper, and by 1908, it also opened offices in both Boston and Chicago. During World War I, it continued to grow and had many top accounts, such as Boyle waxes, Mallory hats, Regal shoes, Stevens-Duryea cars, Lehn & Fink Riveris talcum and Armstrong Cork Co. Larus & Brother was not mentioned in any of the firm’s histories that I found. As I flipped through the scrapbook, later ads were produced by Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn, Inc (BBDO). This firm was created in 1928, when the Batten firm, worth $8 million dollars, merged with the firm of Barton, Durstine & Osborn, which was worth $23 million dollars. Barton, Durstine & Osborn, known as BDO, had clients such as General Electric, General Motors, Consolidated Edison and Du Pont. In the first year as BBDO, they billed $32.6 million dollars. After their merger, BBDO also added radio programming, producing the following shows: Guy Lombardo for General Baking Co., and “The Burns and Allen Show” for Hormel, Lever Bros.’ Swan soap and B.F. Goodrich. Up through now, BBDO has handled many high profile clients such as the American Tobacco Company, General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidential campaign, Pepsi Cola, and Wisk detergent (Ring around the collar jingle).
As I am not a fan of people using tobacco, I never thought I would spend several afternoons reading tobacco ads. But these ads provided insight on what was going on in the world as well as provided me insight to all the different jobs that went into creating these ads. The first 20 years of ads featured hand drawn pictures of different tobacco products, people, and places. The ads were originally black and white, then were blue, and then full color. I recalled that in one of my Grandfather’s letters, he talked about a tissue paper company, who was trying to recruit him to come and set up their displays. He told them about my Grandmother, who was an artist, and the company said she could work for them drawing ads. The artwork on these ads were very detailed and was obviously the work of a real artist. I am not sure if artists these days are still involved in the creation of ads.
The second interesting fact that I found while reading these ads was the lengthy amount of writing on these ads. They were almost like short stories, sometimes targeted to a certain audience that would read the publication where this ad appeared. The ads also gave a glimpse of what was occurring in the world at that time. I found one ad from Wm. Tackaberry Company that talked about a new Edgeworth advertisement came out every week in “the big national magazines and weeklies of large circulation.” In the beginning of the first scrapbook, the earlier ads advertised tins costing 10¢ and 50¢ and humidor packages costing between 15¢ and $1.00. The ad also advertised that you could write to Larus & Brother and they would send you a free story, told by a pipe, called “The Pipe’s Own Story.” The headlines, which would obviously not be able to be used today, included headlines such as “The Good Smoke You’ve Hunted So Long”, “By Heck! You Must Try THis Tobacco – Free!”, “Will You Be Like This Scotchman, Mr. Pipe Smoker?”, “A Letter From Two Jolly Pipe Smokers at the Top of the World”, “New England – Where Every Man and His Brother Smokes a Pipe”, “I’d jes’ as soon hol’ ma maouth open and let the sunshine ht as smoke them thar red tobaccos.”, “From Kinnikinik to Edgeworth”, and “Noted General Pays Tribute to Tobacco”. One ad discussed World War One, by declaring “The Men Who Smoked Through the Argonne”. This ad went on to state “Our fighting men did a splendid and telling piece of workd in driving the Huns out of the Argonne Forest. Our men did it smoking. Smoking was allowed in the army hospitals. Many a man for whom there was no anesthetic, went under the knife grimly smoking. Tobacco and America were both discovered in 1492. Something over four hundred years later, when people were ruling out everything looking like a vice, the whole world sat up and recognized the virtues of tobacco.” More wartime ads declared that any soldier that received tobacco were beyond thrilled to have a “real American smoke” in France. The ad also claimed that General Pershing sent the following “frantic” cable to Washington stating “Tobacco is as necessary as food. Send a thousand tons at once.” Whether or not this is true would require more research, but Larus & Brother was certainly plugging the importance of their product on the morale of the troops. One ad was a poem – “Have you ever noticed right after a meal, How tired and lazy you always feel? I’m telling you folks, it isn’t a joke, It will freshen you up if you try a good smoke.” Other ads proclaimed that a professional singer claimed that using Edgeworth tobacco did not irritate his throat. A very interesting headline read “Doctor Recommends This Tobacco to Pipe-Smoking Patients.” There was a series of ads that were written for the Kellogg Group of Railroad Publications. There was a different ad for every month of that year. Around this timeframe, Larus & Brother also started advertising on the radio, WRVA, The Edgeworth Radio Station. Ads from the late 1920s and early 1930s targeted both college students as well as women, to encourage them to buy Edgeworth tobacco for their husbands so that they will smoke for pleasure. One ad went as far to state “A pipe is not the smoke for girls.” Another proclaimed that Robert Louis Stevenson stated for the rules for a happy marriage would be that “No woman should marry a man who does not smoke.” In reference to the Great Depression, one headline read “Washington Reports Show Public Swings to Pipe Smoking.” The sub-headline said “Return to Normalcy Brings Calmness of Pipe Back to Favor.” The ad went on to say “The years of the Great Boom Market tried men’s nerves to the utmost. Just around every corner was to be found the pot at the end of the rainbow. These were the days of excitement, tenseness. And then the bubble burst. For two and a half years now we have been dropping back to earth. Gradually men learned that calm, steady work and work alone, brings prosperity. A new generation has entered business – a generation that has no illusions about sudden wealth without work.” One ad stated that “Corn pipe tobacco have Sex Appeal” The ads in this first scrapbook appeared in many different magazines, including Saturday Evening Post, Country Gentleman, Collier’s, Life, Time, Pennsylvania Punch Bowl, Pathfinder, Literary Digest, and American Magazine.
Click on the slideshow to view some of the ads. I took the pictures while at the library at the Virginia Museum of Culture and History.
The second scrapbook, consisting of more ads from 1937 to 1946 was smaller than the first one. While my Grandfather didn’t work at Larus during much of this time frame, the ads were again interesting. In addition to some of the same magazines that had Edgeworth advertisements in the earlier time frame, they were also included in Liberty, Outdoor Life, Our Army, Our Navy and Leatherneck. During World War II, there were a series of ads with headlines such as “Modern Barrack-Room Ballads”, “The ‘Blue Tin’ Enlists…”, “Edgeworth Has a New Uniform”, “Edgeworth in Africa!”, and “All I Want for Christmas”. In addition to the ads, there were also other interesting artifacts pertaining to the war. One was as called “A Pledge To the Nation And To Our Associates in the Tobacco Industry.” The pledge went on to say that Larus & Brother was fully dedicated to serving the country. It stated that “As a Company, we pledge our untiring efforts, our facilities, our experience- every meatts(?) at our command – to aid the Government in its prosecution of the war against aggression. As individuals, we stand ready to serve our country in whatever capacity the emergency may dictate – and we pledge a continuation of our present 100% participation in the War Savings campaign.” There was also an ad about “Now Serving With the Armed Services” and it named the 90 members of Larus & Brother Company who had joined either the Army or Navy when this publication went to print. One additional employee was listed as serving with the U.S. Government in Washington, D.C. One of the last ads in this scrapbook was for the Guy Lombardo War Bond Show that was being sponsored by Edgeworth Tobacco and Station WRVA in June 1944.
These pictures were also taken of scrapbook 2 while at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture
Obviously today, these ads wouldn’t pass scrutiny as some of them were rather deceptive in nature. In the collection that is held at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture’s Library (https://www.virginiahistory.org/collections-and-resources/how-we-can-help-your-research/researcher-resources/finding-aids/larus), there was a description of a letter sent from the Bureau of Deceptive Practices, which was part of the Federal Trade Commission that asked for more information from all tobacco companies in response to the Surgeon General’s 1963 finding that smoking was indeed bad for your health. During my second day back at the library, I asked to see Box 15, which contained that letter. In addition to the letter, the box consisted of ads, tins, and tapes of ads that the FTC had requested as they were actively investigating cigarette advertising and labels. My guess is this marked the turning point in what the ads could claim.
Throughout my research on this entire project, I often wondered about the impact of the Great Depression on my Grandfather, since judging by the volume of letters he wrote to my Grandmother, he was pretty gainfully employed throughout this timeframe. I also wondered about how the tobacco industry fared during this time frame as when I visited the tobacco farm in Whatley, Alan Sanderson told me about how the 2008 recession had decimated the Western Massachusetts tobacco industry. But judging by the number of ads in pretty prestigious publications for Larus & Brothers that I found in this scrapbook, I think perhaps the tobacco industry was not really harmed during this time frame. As part of the library’s holdings, there were also ledgers, that I thought might also be interesting, so I also requested to see these. I will admit upfront, that I almost flunked out of Accounting 2, so reading through these were not going to be in my comfort zone. There was a lot of information contained in these ledgers. Some of the more interesting ones to me, was that there was a page dedicated to licorice, one of my favorite candies! Turns out that licorice can sometimes make up to four percent of a cigarette and it is used to smooth out the flavor. Other ingredients that were listed include glycerine and sugar. There were also pages for the Salesmen’s Salaries, Advertising, Sales Expenses, Fuel, Automobiles, Auto Tires & Tubes, and Commercial Radio. But to me, the most important page in that ledger was one titled Window Displays. According to my meagher accounting skills, it looks like they may have spent $37, 467.12 on window displays in 1929. While I didn’t find out anything more about window displays, it was a good find to see that this was an expense at Larus & Brother.
My trip to Richmond not only provided me with the opportunity to be with one of my favorite people in the world, eat some great food, learn about Richmond’s history, visit some interesting shops, and see a glimpse of spring, but it also provided me with more background information about the company that sent my grandfather out on these long road trips that I had been re-creating. While I still have more questions about the life of a traveling window decorator and in the tobacco industry in general during the Great Depression, this trip helped me learn more about who was Larus & Brother and the evolution of tobacco ads in this time frame.