Did You Know?
by Chip Brooks
Article #7 * Part I
William Christian Frutiger or W.C. as he preferred to be called was a cigar maker. He started in the cigar business around 1900 - working here and there in a little town in Pennsylvania named Red Lion. You probably have never heard of W.C. or Factory 417 but I'll bet you have heard of a few of the 15 or so titles made at Factory 417, First Dist. PA: Bank Note, Big Wolf, Hambone, Sun Maid, Victory, Banker's Bouquet and El Garcia.
Bob Frutiger is W.C.'s grandson, semi-retired now and still living in Red Lion. I 'met' Bob on-line a year or so ago as the successful bidder of one of his occasional cyber auctions (a cigar label of course!). Recently I was checking out the labels for auction and came across a Bank Note inner. The description identified the label as one produced in his grandfather's factory: W.C. Frutiger & Co. You guessed it, Bob was the seller. The old proverbial light bulb went off (OK so it wasn't a very big light bulb). Wow! How often do you get the opportunity to talk with someone who was closely related to a cigar maker from the early 1900's especially from a town like Red Lion; a town that once had hundreds of cigar manufacturers from mom & pop business' to large and highly successful factories and someone whose grandfather produced several of the labels that many of us have in our collections? What ensued from there were many E-mails back and forth and a telephone conversation that lasted several hours with a very gentle man in Red Lion, with great patience who was willing to help me out (maybe Ed will reimburse my expenses - Right!). The result: A two part article on Factory 417, W.C.'s label buying techniques and cigar making tricks, fascinating details about a few of his titles and just some great information about a town and its people - yesterday & today. Thank You BOB!
"Did You Know?" - "FACTORY 417"
W.C. purchased Factory 743 in Felton, PA (a town with 300 people, 2 miles from Red Lion) around 1918. With his purchase of the factory, he inherited several labels one of which was Bank Note. Interesting point: Bank Note was probably around for several years prior to 1918 but we don't know who actually owned the label originally. Shortly after getting his start as a cigar manufacturer, W.C. purchased Factory 417 in Red Lion. He closed Factory 743 and integrated that factory's tobacco and labels with his newly acquired factory's stock. This is the reason some Bank Note boxes and TINS have either Factory 743 or Factory 417 listed on them.
Factory 417 manufactured cigars from 1920 to 1967, at first made by hand and then later by machine. The building was 4 stories high, 50 feet wide and 150 feet long. The 4th floor had a large skylight enabling the workers who sorted and packed the cigar boxes to easily discern the color variances of the tobacco leaf from claro (light green) to maduro (dark brown/black).
In the 20's and 30's about 135 people worked at Factory 417. Using short filler, an exceptional roller would produce about 800 cigars in 8 hours. If a fair roller, she would produce about 600 cigars in the same time frame. They were paid by the piece. In 1947 the going rate was $.27 per 100 cigars or $2.16 per day for the exceptional roller. As was the common practice in Red Lion, W.C. always used short filler for his cigars. To roll a cigar with long filler was very time consuming and costly. Side note: short filler is tobacco shredded into pieces 1"x ½" and then rolled into the cigar - long filler is 1 to 3 tobacco leafs folded and then painstakingly rolled into a cigar.
In the late teens, the first Filler Plant opened in Red Lion. The cigar manufacturers would inform the plant what the formulas, flavors and blends were for each of their brands and the plant would provide the finished filler tobacco ready to roll. On one of his brands, W.C. used brewed coffee to keep it moist before rolling. During this time, most of the quality tobacco was aged 5 years before it was used. Side note: By 1927 one-fifth of all 5¢ cigars consumed in the U.S. were made in York County, PA: Red Lion, East Prospect, Yorkana, Hanover, Felton just to name a few.
When buying labels for the factory, W.C. would purchase approximately a 10 year supply. If business was good for that label, a 10 year supply would consist of 95 bundles @ 500 labels per bundle or about 47,500 labels. If business wasn't that good it could easily become a 20 year supply. When the prices changed they would just add a sticker to the label with the new price. A common practice of the time has made it difficult today to establish some of the labels original origins. Occasionally W.C. would receive an order from an outside customer with their own tobacco but no label. If he did not have any extra labels to use, W.C. would buy another factory's labels to fill the customer's order. This resulted in a cigar with the customer's tobacco, another factory's label and Factory 417's number on the box. This is why boxes may vary with different factory numbers but have the same label.
Did You Know?
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