Tobacco was big business in central Wisconsin
There was a time tobacco was fairly big business in central Wisconsin.
"The shiftless, lazy, careless farmer need not expect to be successful for he will make a miserable failure if he tried. It needs brains; it needs untiring energy and above all it needs men who can adapt themselves to circumstances and learn and profit by experience."
These words were part of a lengthy report of the Wisconsin Agricultural Society, "The Ins and Outs of Tobacco Culture," presented by F. Coon to the state agricultural convention held in 1885 in Madison.
At that time, Wisconsin was a leading tobacco growing state with some 16,000 acres grown by about 4,000 farmers, mainly in Rock and Dane counties. But in the late 1800s and early 1900s, cigar factories sprung up in Marshfield, too.
Once it was found that tobacco would grow as far north as Alaska, many early Wisconsin entrepreneurs got on board.
By 1920, Wood County had 48 acres of growing tobacco and produced nearly 6,000 pounds, most of that coming from around Pittsville. There was even a cigar makers union, No. 72.
From 1880 until the early 1950s, farmers used hand labor and mules in the fields. It took 900 man hours of work per each acre of tobacco.
Because of the cold weather here, farmers planted their prepared seed beds in February. Most farmers mixed the pin-prick sized seeds with soil and spread it over the beds. The area was "staked" and a covering, usually linen, placed on top to protect the seedlings as they emerged. Seedlings generally took six weeks to mature then had to be transferred to the fields.
In late July and early August, tobacco harvesting began. In an average year, a farmer picked tobacco plants three to five times, starting first with the bottom few leaves. Subsequent pickings removed more leaves up the plant about every two to three weeks afterward.
Mules hauled the leaves on sleds from the fields to the curing barns where, under an attached shelter, others, mostly women, tied the tobacco onto sticks. When the men came in from the fields at the end of the day, they placed the prepared sticks of tobacco into the barn and lit the furnace.
For seven days, the farmer carefully raised the temperature in the barn and caused the tobacco to dry. Once cured, the farmer put out the fire and opened the doors to allow the tobacco to absorb natural humidity until pliable again.
After being laid out and graded at a "packhouse" it was bundled and taken to a tobacco factory for the final step, rolling the cigars.
The Wisconsin Valley Leader reported the Marshfield factories, down side streets off Central Avenue, employed the youth of the area to roll cigars.
Bever Cigar Factory at 605 N. Central Ave. was owned and operated by Arthur Bever. Two of his brothers opened Bever Brothers Cigar Factory in Grand Rapids.
Growers competed annually for awards at the Milwaukee State Fair.