Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Always a Cigar Maker

At our Lange Cousin Reunion last year, Aunt Katherine asked me to look into her father's family as she did not know much about them. Over several months, I traced her father's Walter family back to Nicola Walter who was born about 1720 in the Rhineland-Palatinate region of what is now Germany. He arrived in Philadelphia in 1751 but by 1779 had moved west to what is now Heidelberg in York County. Nicola and his wife, Rosana, had at least two sons: Nicola, Jr. and John Walter.

John Walter was murdered in 1797 one mile from Elk Ridge. He was a tailor and had served in the Revolutionary War. He left a wife and three children. One son, John William Walter, married twice, had several children, and lived in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where he owned a prosperous farm. One son by his second wife was Aloysius Walter. He was my aunt's great grandfather.

Aloysius Walter was born about 1848 on his parents farm in Emmitsburg where he grew up. At the age of 21 he married Flora Moselle Dorsey at the Moravian Church in Graceham, Maryland. They settled in Mechanicstown, which is now known as Thurmont, Maryland, where Aloysius worked as a carpenter.

Moravian Church in Graceham, Maryland, where Aloysius Walter and Flora
Mozelle Dorsey were married; courtesy of the church

By 1896 Aloysius had moved his family to Baltimore where they lived at 300 Parkin Street. Aloysius had left his carpentry work, too. He now worked as a cigar maker. His three oldest sons, Harry O., Charles J., and William Gunza Walter, were also cigar makers. By 1900 those three sons had married and moved out of their parent's home. Aloysius' next son, Ross Norman Walter, worked with him as a cigar maker.  Years later, at least two sons sold cigars in their shops in Baltimore and the District of Columbia.

Cigar making seemed an important part of the Walter family livelihood for at least two generations. I was curious to learn more about its history. Patricia Cooper's book, Once a Cigar Maker, described the work culture in cigar factories from about 1870 to 1900.

"Manufacturing itself underwent vast changes during the late nineteenth century...cigar manufacturing moved from the independent producer to pre-corporate forms (firms that were owned and managed by the same person) of large-scale factory production during these years... By the 1890s, several large companies in various cities had factories employing several hundred and a few employed over one thousand workers... Cigar making itself had for some time been confined to male craftsmen, but during the 1870s manufacturers began dividing the labor process and hiring women."

Cigar factory, 1892; courtesy of TampaPix

Likely Aloysius and his sons were not cigar craftsmen but rather factory workers responsible for a portion of the making of cigars. Aloysius died in 1911 but his sons who remained in the cigar business would have experienced the labor strife that began in 1917 and burst into public consciousness in 1919.

Cooper's book included a lovely quote by Jose Santana:

"We are really...more like a brotherhood...Once a cigar maker, always a cigar maker. That means that you may get away from the trade for a couple of years, but you always have in your mind the cigar makers. And if something go wrong when you are working somewhere else, you will go back to the cigar shop. They were so congenial one with the other that you enjoy... You are working for a couple of years out of the shop, at something else, and then for some reason you come back to the cigar shop they welcome you. No animosity or nothing like it. But what they used to say, once a cigar maker, always a cigar maker."

Since reading Mr. Santana's sentiments about the cigar craftsmen, I wondered it it had been lost during the industry's transformation to factory production. Probably so, and what a shame!

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