Tobacco Magnate R.J. Reynolds

A worker in a Reynolds Plant in 1947. Image from the State Archives

On July 28, 1918, Richard Joshua Reynolds, founder of one of North Carolina’s most prosperous corporations, died after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Born in 1850, Reynolds grew up in a large and affluent Virginia family. His upbringing gave him many opportunities for education and for learning the family’s tobacco business.

In 1874, Reynolds decided to venture into business for himself, purchasing a town lot in Winston. There he built a factory with railway connections. In his first year of operation, he manufactured about 150,000 pounds of Southern flat plug chewing tobacco. By the 1890s, his annual production was in the millions of pounds.

An image of Reynolds from Wake Forest University

In the late 1880s, Reynolds revolutionized the chewing tobacco industry with the addition of saccharine to his flue-cured chew. In 1907, he introduced his Prince Albert smoking tobacco, and in 1911, he followed up with his Camel cigarette, the first genuinely American cigarette and the first to be mass produced.

The R. J. Reynolds brands and products were driving forces in the tobacco industry. Reynolds amassed great wealth, and found philanthropic ways to share it. His descendants have followed his philanthropic example, with charitable foundations in North Carolina and beyond.

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