Skip Navigation
The Official Web Site of the State of South Carolina
Town of Estill Town Hall

The Bull Durham Tobacco Company Story  

 

Union and Confederate armies regularly traded tobacco for coffee and other goods throughout the Civil War.  In Durham Station, North Carolina, near the end of the war, soldiers from both sides raided a farmer’s tobacco crop as they waited for a surrender to be completed.  After returning home, these same soldiers wrote back to request more of this tobacco.  The farmer, Mr. John Green, was happily obliged to send containers of “brightleaf” tobacco which reportedly had a much milder taste than the tobacco usually found.  W.T. Blackwell partnered with Mr. Green and formed the “Bull Durham Tobacco Company”.  The name “Bull Durham” is said to have been taken from the bull on the British Coleman Mustard, which Mr. Blackwell mistakenly believed was manufactured in Durham England.  From 1874 – 1957, Bull Durham Tobacco, the first truly national tobacco brand, was manufactured in Durham, NC.   By the turn of the Century, Bull Durham Tobacco was reportedly the largest tobacco company in the world.  The U.S. government is said to have bought every ounce of Bull Durham Tobacco during the World War I years to send to the war effort.   W.T. Blackwell and Company introduced production, packaging, and marketing techniques that made Bull Durham a part of American industrial history and folklore.  Their advertising and marketing was second to none.  It was common for their salesmen to ride the countryside looking for places to advertise.  They would find the most prominent building in town and then pay to install “ghost” advertising on the side of the structure.  Many of the print ads were offensive and depicted Blacks as happy-go-lucky simpletons; a representation common of the Jim Crow era.  


Some baseball experts have cited a connection to the Bull Durham Tobacco Company.  In the early part of the 20th century, Bull Durham advertising signs were featured on the outfield fences of most major and minor league ballparks.  Since the Bull Durham signs were generally located near the area where relief pitchers warmed up prior to entering games, the word “bullpen” could have resulted from this association.  In those days, all games were day games and the Bull Durham advertising signs provided much needed shade.  In 1910, the “Bull Durham” name was so closely associated with baseball; that signs were in almost every ballpark in the Country.  These signs typically stood 25 feet high by 40 feet long.  The company offered a $50 reward to any hitter who could hit a ball off the sign.  In addition, any player hitting a home run in a park with a bull on the fence got a carton of tobacco.  In 1909, there 50 sign in place and 14 players won rewards.  The next year, with nearly 150 Bull Durham signs being hit 85 times, $4,520 in cash more than 10,000 pounds of tobacco was awarded.

 

Sources: Duke University Library, Wikipedia, Heckle Depot      

Edited by Danny Lucas