Beverly Hahs is a native of Cape Girardeau County, a freelance writer, and graduate of Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in English and Library Science.
Roth Tobacco Co.: When tobacco was king, 1874
Roth Tobacco Co., one of Cape Girardeau’s earliest factories, was established by Ludwig “Louis” Roth in 1874.
Born in Germany, Louis, at the age of 6 journeyed to America with his parents to Frohna, Missouri. After marrying, he moved to Cape Girardeau in 1853, where he took the job as a cooper. Deciding to change careers, Louis went on to make pipe and chewing tobacco, as there were already plenty cigar makers in town.
Roth attached catchy names to his tobacco, such as Eggshell Twist, Log Cabin, Foxy Grandpa and Bee’s Wax — “Sweet as Honey — Tough as Wax.”
The first factory was next door to the Roth home at 508 William St.
To learn the trade, Louis’ two sons, Martin and George, worked for the St. Louis firm, Liggett and Myers Tobacco Co. They returned to Cape and took over the business upon their father’s death 1885.
Business flourished. Martin, as president, traveled in horse and buggy to Louisville, Kentucky’s, market to buy tobacco. It would be shipped down the Ohio and up the Mississippi. A local man, John Hampton unloaded the tobacco at the levee to a wagon drawn by mules. The Cape Girardeau Democrat newspaper on Aug. 17, 1905, gave one such incident: “The steamer Ferd Harold brings a huge load for Roth Tobacco from Louisville — 33 hogsheads…and two boxes of sample tobacco.”
Needing more space for their 50 employees, the firm moved to a three story brick building at 100 S. Frederick St.
A young girl, 14, by the name of Carrie Schumacher became the business’ youngest employee in 1912. Her father was the night watchman.
A number of years ago I had the privilege of visiting with Carrie about her experiences. She explained to me the process after the tobacco arrived. The leaves were untied, sorted and dampened with a spray to give them a flavor. After a few years, Carrie went from stemmer to making tobacco twists such as the Bee’s Wax Twist.
Carrie made friends quickly. Many times, she and the other workers bought their lunches from the peddler, Frank Carroll, who cried, “Hot tamales, chicken, hot tamales, 5 cents.”
From her Chestnut Street home, Carrie walked a total of two miles each day. She became quite proficient, making 600 twists a day for 60 cents pay.
At 27 years old, Carrie left work to marry her neighbor, Gay Chostner. They lived in California until 1927, when they returned to Cape.
During the 1900’s, E.W. Flentge served as the factory’s president, and Charles F. Fluhrer served as manager. They sought out Carrie to rehire her. She accepted and worked … 20 more years.
E.W. Flentge sold the company during the 1940s to the Owens Brothers of Tennessee. The building changed businesses and was destroyed by fire 1953.
As we parted ways, Carried added, “The last years I worked, I made $55 a week. The highest I made in one day was 1,700 twists, that’s a big day’s work.”
Yes, Carrie, and that was when tobacco was king!