Cigarette Pack Collectors' Association

                                  The Golden Belt Manufacturing Company

 

                                   

                                                     Golden Belt Manufacturing Co., Durham, NC circa 1910

 

 

     Any history of the cigarette industry in America should include at least one chapter on The Golden Belt Manufacturing Company of Durham, NC.  The company has been associated with the packaging of tobacco products since its inception in 1887 and even today remains  one of the largest makers of cigarette packs in the world. 

   The history of the Golden Belt Company goes back to the post Civil War era in North Carolina and the development of ‘golden’ or ‘bright leaf’ tobacco manufacturing in the Raleigh-Durham area. The firm of W.T. Blackwell & Co. had established a plant in Durham for the production of smoking tobacco during those early post-war years and company president, Julian Carr shrewdly promoted his wares under the “Bull Durham” trademark which he emblazoned on all his packaging and advertising. As the success of Bull Durham Tobacco grew, Carr soon faced a problem trying to keep up with demand for the little muslin bags which he used to package his product. In the beginning, Carr relied on the women of Durham and neighboring communities to hand make the little sacks in their homes. However, even the best home-based workers could make only about 600 bags a day and it wasn’t long before it became apparent that a better method was needed.   

     In 1885, William Kerr, a textile manufacturer approached Carr with a plan to develop a machine to make the bags. Within a year, he had built a complicated device which, although operated by a single worker, could turn out over 25,000 of the little muslin bags a day. Carr won the rights to the machine for the promise of a royalty of 10 cents per 1,000 bags sold and immediately set up The Golden Belt Manufacturing Company to produce them inside his Bull Durham plant. The machines were also used to make muslin sacks for sugar, flour, salt, meal, feedstuffs, and coins which were sold to local manufacturers.

    Commissioned by Carr, and collaborating with Rufus Patterson, Kerr went on to develop a machine to stamp and label the bags. This was completed in 1895 and actually was capable of weighing, packing, stamping, and labeling bags at a rate of 25 per minute. Although Kerr died in a drowning accident in that same year, several of his machines were still operating at the factory as late as 1948. Thus, with the help of inventors Kerr and Patterson, Julian Carr had built a prospering enterprise within his Bull Durham factory.  However, it was another Durham entrepreneur who would reap the greatest profits from the groundwork done by Carr. 

    

      James Buchanan Duke had begun manufacturing cigarettes at his father’s tobacco plant in 1881 and with the help of the famous  Bonsack machine, was able to raise output to an amazing 817 million a day by 1889. At that point Duke controlled 38% of the US cigarette market and was expanding his operation in many directions. After consolidating all of his holdings into the American Tobacco Company in 1890, Duke looked around for other companies to acquire. In 1897, he made a special trip to see the Kerr-Patterson machine at the Golden Belt factory. Calling it the most ingenious piece of tobacco machinery that he had ever seen, Duke purchased the W.T. Blackwell firm along with its Golden Belt subsidiary in 1899 for 3 million dollars.

    When the Supreme Court broke up the American Tobacco empire in 1911, Golden Belt was the only subsidiary allowed to remain. In 1923, the company was printing labels for Bull Durham sacks and covers for roll-your-own cigarette papers. They began printing the first Lucky Strike labels using the letterpress process in 1926. They were also the first to use the gravure printing process for cigarette labels in 1949. By 1993, the company was turning out 1.4 billion cigarette packs per year for all six major US manufacturers (except R.J. Reynolds which had its own in-house operation). Although the original Durham facility closed several years ago, the firm continues to operate several plants in North Carolina as well as a large Ontario facility for the Canadian market.