Red Lion, PA — A Rich Cigar History

If you went to Red Lion, Pennsylvania and asked a local resident if they knew someone who worked at a Red Lion cigar factory, chances are they did.

If you went to Red Lion, Pennsylvania and asked a local resident if they knew anyone currently working at a Red Lion cigar factory, their answer would be a resounding “no.”

At one time producing 10 percent of cigars sold in the United States, Red Lion was infamous for being one of the largest cigar-producing towns in the country, boasting 30 factories throughout the late 19th and early 20th century. Employing many of the town’s residents, the cigar industry essentially built the town of Red Lion, which is home to approximately 6,333 people, according to the 2013 Census.

The opera house? Built on cigar profits. The theater? Again, cigar profits.

Throughout the height of its popularity, it was hard to find a corner of Red Lion that cigars didn’t touch–you could find women stripping the stem from tobacco leaves in their own homes, or hear songs and poems written about the factories by their workers.

Once machinery was introduced into the cigar industry, Red Lion residents loved their jobs so much that they went on strike in 1934 to protect their beloved jobs. That strike ended with police intervention.

The last cigar factory left in the 1.28 square mile town, Van Slyke & Horton, closed its doors back in 2011. First opening in 1910, the company employed around 60 people and produced tens of thousands of cigars per month in the height of it’s cigar popularity.

In its golden era, Red Lion was the richest place, per-capita, in the entire nation, according to Shirley Keeports, director of the Red Lion Historical Society’s museum.

Cigar manufactures have been facing a tough market, with periods of discouraging lows (cigar consumption dropped by more than 66 percent between the mid-1960s and early 1990s) and an embargo prohibiting nearly all trade between Cuba and the United States marking a resurgence in business, this centuries-old trade is certainly resilient.

However, the fluctuating market wasn’t strong enough to keep the Red Lion factories in business.

“It certainly is the end of an era,” said Joe Jacobs, manager of the factory. “There were a lot of people who lived a very good life because of it. The industry was responsible for Red Lion being such a flourishing community at that time, and there was a time when most men had a cigar in their mouth. We just always thought people would smoke.”