Maysville Tobacco Market

With the year 1908 had begun Maysville’s rise in the tobacco. selling and buying world. Many had been the wars and strifes leading to the establishment of the loose leaf market in Maysville. The results of these private and public fights led, at a date too recent for more than a mention, to the organization of the pool, known as the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association. This auction plan was reorganized in 1927. Crop shortages forced the price of tobacco upward and a general price of $27.21 per hundred was paid for the 1927 crop. The next year’s crop sold even higher, with Maysville averaging $33.05 on 28,418,175 pounds.

Maysville grasped the idea of the loose leaf market when the idea was hardly born in other centers. The first warehouse(The Farmers) was built in 1909. This was the second warehouse to be constructed in Kentucky. Before the year was ended, another-The Tuckahoe ( Planters )-was erected and became the third warehouse in the State. These three houses successfully served the growers during the 1910 and 1911 seasons, but the next year saw the Central Warehouse opened. The following year witnessed the building of the Independent. A total of sixteen houses were erected in course of time to handle the millions of pounds of tobacco now being marketed in Maysville.

The city prospered as the demand for tobacco increased. Many buyers (the American Tobacco Company was the main buyer before the equity society) came in with the open auction, and the erection of tobacco factories followed. The R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company established one of its largest plants in Mays­ville in 1917. The American likewise built mammoth quarters to take care of its annual purchases. To such an extent did such factories spring up near this the second-largest looseleaf tobacco market in the world, that now all the leading manufacturers of tobacco in any form are represented on the Maysville Market.

The market facilities and buying power enabled Maysville to distribute approximately five millions of dollars a year to tobacco growers during the last six years. In that period, 171,937,025 pounds passed’ over the breaks at an average of $17.69 a hundred pounds.

Expanding from a market center for a few surrounding counties, the Maysville market now handles (1935-1936 season) tobacco from six States.  Farmers patronizing the Maysville market receive not only the advantage of having their leaf sold: it is subjected to competitive bidding among such companies as R. J. Reynolds, American Tobacco Suppliers, Inc., Liggett and Meyers Tobacco Company, P. Lorillard and Company, Southwestern Tobacco Company, Parker Tobacco Company, J. B. Heizer Tobacco Company, and numerous commission firms, headed by such outstanding companies as Weldon and Jernegan, Maddox Tobacco Company and Dryden Company. These tobacco companies place three sets of buyers on the Maysville Market that purchase between 800,000 and 1,000,000 pounds of tobacco daily when the leaf is available. The great market has the services of seven redryers, which operate full time during the tobacco season and have storage warehouse facilities for 75,000,000 pounds of tobacco.

Above Excerpted from page 258 – 260 of G. Glenn Clift History of Maysville and Mason County Ky published in approximately 1937


The first boat loads of Kentucky tobacco went to New Orleans in the 1780s. By 1839 Kentucky ranked second only to Virginia in the quantities of locally stemmed and packed tobacco shipped to England. Sometime during 1858–1859, Bracken Co. grower Laban J. Bradford found a mutated plant that appeared much lighter in color and texture than the

original dark leathery leaf known as red burley. He saved the seeds and the following year sowed them in a separate patch.

Over the next four years, Bradford selected only the sturdiest plants in that patch for new seeds. He called the distinct variety white burley and gave some of the seeds to a neighbor, George W. Barkley. While Bradford was serving as president of the Kentucky State Agricultural Society from 1862 until 1863, he noted that Kentucky had become the largest tobacco-producing state in the nation.

In spring 1864, Joseph Fore and George Webb came across the Ohio river from Brown Co., Ohio, to Augusta, Ky., to obtain tobacco seeds. Barkley gave the men some white burley seeds, which they planted on land rented from Capt. Fred Kautz. Months later, Fore and Webb noticed that their new tobacco plants had a dirty yellow hue and light texture. This normally was a sign that plants were diseased, and so they burned that crop. The next year, however, when Webb saw the tobacco growing from the Kentucky white burley seeds he had brought back from Kentucky, he recognized that instead of being caused by a disease, the color and texture represented a definite new variety of tobacco. Webb also found that the new crop developed neither mold nor rot as red burley tobacco plants did. Better yet, he could cut down the entire plant, rather than picking each leaf as it ripened. Webb produced a crop of 20,000 pounds that commanded top dollar at the Cincinnati tobacco market in 1866. The following year, he went to the St. Louis Fair and won first prize and second prize in tobacco-crop competitions. When Webb tried to patent what he believed was a new tobacco strain, he failed because Bracken Co. White burley had already become common in the Ohio and Kentucky region. This adaptable tobacco leaf revolutionized the industry, and for a brief time, Augusta became a clearing port for Central Kentucky’s production of white burley tobacco and the biggest market in the district. Steamboats lined the levee at Augusta for a mile and a half and Cincinnati soon replaced Louisville as the region’s foremost distributor for Central Kentucky’s tobacco crops.

“Bracken County Cradle of the White Burley,” Bracken County Chronicle, October 23, 1930.

Clowes, Jack. “My Lady Nicotine’ Becomes Cash Crop with Aid of Frankfort’s Founder,” Lexington Herald-Leader, August 10, 1969. An article based on an 1873 article in the Frankfort Commonwealth in which Bradford described his role.

Collins, Lewis, and Richard Collins. History of Kentucky. 2 vols. Reprint, Berea: Kentucky Imprints, 1976.

Heimann, Robert K. Tobacco and Americans. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1960.

Van Willigen, John, and Susan C. Eastwood. Tobacco Culture: Farming Kentucky’s Burley Belt. Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1998.

Donald A. Clark

Above based on excerpted from page 953 of THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NORTHERN KENTUCKY THE UNIVERSITY PRESS OF KENTUCKY ISBN 978-0-8131-2565-7






Other Resources on Tobacco History

Tobacco Scenes in Maysville Kentucky from

The changing face of the tobacco trade | Ledger Independent …

Burley Tobacco Oral History Project | Pass the Word

Tobacco 10 Year after the Burley Buy-Out

Family Farms of Kentucky: Burley Tobacco Oral History Project …

Kentucky’s Tobacco Barn Craftsman

Tobacco Company Histories

RJ Reynolds Corporate History

Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company Corporate History

Parker Tobacco Company – Abandoned – Abandoned Building …

Tobacco History

Stages of Burley Tobacco Production