Tobacco farming has a long history in North Carolina, including in Charlotte and the surrounding areas. The crop was first introduced to the state in the late 1600s, and by the early 1800s, it had become a major economic force in the region. Sir Walter Raleigh was the first explorer to bring the leaf to Europe.
Harvesting Tobacco with a Mule. Photograph. Tobacco Farm Life Museum, Kenly, NC.
In the early days of tobacco farming in Charlotte, much of the crop was grown by small family farms, which sold their tobacco to larger tobacco companies for processing and distribution. As demand for tobacco increased in the late 1800s and early 1900s, larger commercial tobacco operations began to dominate the industry, and tobacco became one of the most important crops in the state. In fact, the wealth of the Duke family stems from tobacco.
During the mid-1900s, the tobacco industry in Charlotte and North Carolina as a whole continued to grow, with many farmers specializing in tobacco production and many others working in related industries such as processing and distribution. However, by the late 20th century, concerns about the health effects of smoking and increased regulation of the tobacco industry led to a decline in tobacco production in the region.
Many will remember the massive 2,100 acre Philip Morris facility that sat at 2321 Concord Parkway S. in Concord. The site was a dairy farm up until the 1970s when Philip Morris bought the land. The cigarette production facility opened in 1983, on 500 acres of the land (the size of Northlake and Carolina Place Mall combined), but covering 3.5 million square feet in aggregate. The site eventually hit an average production rate of 17.1 million cigarettes an hour (155 billion per year). The plant eventually closed in 2009, impacting thousands of jobs and was a major blow, to the tune of millions of dollars, to the local tax base.
Worker checks on filter-attaching process Philip Morris plant in 1983; Observer file photo.
Today, tobacco farming remains an important industry in North Carolina. And while farmers in the area are now able to focus and expand their prospects internationally, domestically it has become a less dominant market than it was in the past. Many farmers have diversified their operations to include other crops or have shifted their focus to other industries entirely. Nevertheless, the history of tobacco farming in Charlotte and the surrounding areas is an important part of the region's agricultural and economic heritage. Click here to read about the Sharp family farm in Wilson County, which goes back well over 100 years and 6 generations farming tobacco.
Until next week!
"Home of future $740M NC drink manufacturing site has storied, troubled history," by Catherine Muccigrosso. July 13, 2021.
"Tobacco Farming the Old Way," ncpedia.org.
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“History is not the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.” - James Baldwin