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Smoking once a big part of American culture

Try as we might to quit smoking or forget that we ever had the habit, we cannot erase the fact that smoking once played a large role in American culture.

My family has really enjoyed watching The War series on PBS. The photographs, interviews and film footage from World War II are truly moving. Viewing the program, I noticed the prevalence of cigarettes and smoking. That cigarette we frown upon today was probably one of the few pleasures for a GI in combat.

It was the same for the voyageurs who paddled the waterways of Minnesota. At the end of a hard day of portaging furs and steering canoes in the wilderness, these hardy souls enjoyed a relaxing smoke. In fact, the voyageurs may even deserve credit for inventing the office cigarette break. These human work horses traveled many miles in a day and the distance between breaks to eat or rest was called "a pipe," so called for the white clay pipe they smoked at each stop.

Tobacco had a role in homestead culture as well. C. Murray Hunt came to Otter Tail County when his father homesteaded near Star Lake beginning in 1879. When he was 16 years old, Hunt learned the art of cigar making from Alexander Van Praag and worked for him for 10 years.

In 1892, he started his own business, Hunt Bros. Cigar Factory where he manufactured cigars including: Hunt's Imperial, Hunt's Commander, Hunt's Havanna Special, Ralph Emerson, Factory Smoker and Fergus Jr. He later sold the business to the Kritzers.

The business provided good jobs for Fergus Falls and when the company expanded in 1905, the newspaper proclaimed, "Important Deal" in bold letters.

"An important business deal was consummated here Monday, Hunt Bros., the well known cigar manufacturers of this city, purchasing the west half of the Allen and Cutler block on Lincoln avenue west."

The cost of this deal came to $6,000. According to The Daily Journal for Oct. 18, 1905, Hunt Bros. had already "grown until the factory is today the largest cigar factory in the western part of the state, and the fact that the firm is able to maintain and increase its patronage year after year indicates business ability, fair dealing, and the manufacture of cigars that cannot be surpassed."

Up in Perham, another businessman took advantage of the cigar fad. The Perham Bulletin for April 20, 1893, reported, "Frank Pockswenski has purchased the cigar makers outfit from A. C. Broun, and will hereafter run a cigar factory here.

He will employ first class workmen and turn out good goods. We have no doubt that he will make a success of the business." Another line on the same page notes that Mr. Pockswenski "currently has his cigar shop over his residence."

Not all the first class workers in cigar factories were men. Mildred Brolin of Pelican Rapids took up her own homestead back in the early 1900s. It took five years to prove up on a homestead and for six months each year she worked the land, farming, clearing, storing food.

She wrote in her memoir, "Half of every year I had to work out to get cash for supplies. At various times I stripped tobacco leaves at a shop in Warroad which made and sold cigars."

In 1914, Mildred paid $34 and received the deed for 160 acres of her own land.

Your Otter Tail County Historical Society has always been smokefree. Make plans to visit soon.

Source: Fergus Falls Daily Journal