While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Diana J. Kleiner

WILLIS CIGAR FACTORY. Willis Cigar Factory, one of eight cigar-manufacturing operations in Willis, was founded in the 1870s by Capt. Thomas Wesley Smith, a Civil War veteran and former sheriff. Smith moved to Texas as a boy in 1845 and was involved in a mercantile interest, which he moved to Willis in 1872 before he entered the tobacco business. Area farmers found the Montgomery County climate and soil conditions favorable for tobacco production, and high quality local varieties, including Sumatra and a type from the Abajo district of Cuba, won international awards in Chicago and Paris. Prisoners from the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville were used for labor in the tobacco fields. The business flourished in the 1880s and 1890s, but began to decline after the Spanish-American War. Owen Smith took over the firm after his father's death in 1901, and the business failed to compete when tariff laws on Cuban tobacco were lifted and employees demanded higher wages. Labor dissatisfaction became apparent when employees began to load gunpowder, or caps, into the cigars. The original factory building was abandoned by 1910 and burned in the 1930s.

Marker Files, Texas Historical Commission, Austin. Montgomery County Genealogical Society, Montgomery County History (Winston-Salem, North Carolina: Hunter, 1981).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Diana J. Kleiner, "WILLIS CIGAR FACTORY," accessed August 10, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/dlwwe.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...