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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Thomas Henderson, October 28, 1999. Interview K-0228. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Description of tobacco processing from superintendent's perspective

Here, Henderson describes one of his first jobs in the tobacco industry, with Cunningham and Stables Tobacco Company in Smithfield, North Carolina. Henderson had this job in the early 1930s, shortly after having left college because of economic necesity during the Great Depression. Henderson describes his job as the factory superintendent, highlighting the ways in which tobacco was processed and how the factory was operated.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Thomas Henderson, October 28, 1999. Interview K-0228. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Kenneth got me a job with a small tobacco company in Henderson-I mean in Smithfield. That's where my wife is from. It was Cunningham and Stables Tobacco Company.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
Okay.
THOMAS HENDERSON:
And I went there to work in the factory. And they paid me $80 a month.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
Doing what were you in the factory?
THOMAS HENDERSON:
I was really factory superintendent. And I was twenty-two years old.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
My goodness.
THOMAS HENDERSON:
I had about a hundred and fifty folks working there.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
They're making cigarettes?
THOMAS HENDERSON:
No, no. This was [unclear] . It's a market there. And we bought tobacco on that market and we processed it. We stemmed it or we put it up in bundles. And we had orders. And we put up some tobacco on speculation.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
Okay.
THOMAS HENDERSON:
And we had about three hundred hand stemmers that stemmed tobacco by hand and-
CHARLES THOMPSON:
And how did that work-the stemming work?
THOMAS HENDERSON:
All right. Well they stemmed this tobacco-they had on aprons and they'd fill the apron up. And they kept the stems and you paid them four cents a pound for the stem. And at the end of the week they weighed the stems. I would weigh the stems and I would pay off on Saturday. We'd pay off with money.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
So they're stemming the tobacco by hand?
THOMAS HENDERSON:
By hand.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
There were these aprons and they're dropping the stems in their aprons.
THOMAS HENDERSON:
Yes. I reckon so. I don't remember exactly what they did with the stems.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
And you were the supervisor at that point going around to-
THOMAS HENDERSON:
Well I had-. Yes. I was everything. I looked after that stemming room. And I looked after the leaf room. I looked after the receiving room where the tobacco went through the redrying machine and was put in [unclear] and weighed and tagged and carried to a storage house. I kept the time for all employees that were [unclear] and made payroll.