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Lucky Strike relics marking the American Tobacco Historic District.

The American Tobacco Company was founded in 1890 by J. B. Duke as a merger between a number of U.S. tobacco manufacturers including Allen and Ginter and Goodwin & Company. The company was one of the original 12 members of the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 1896.

Akin to the domination of Standard Oil in the same era, the American Tobacco Company dominated the industry by acquiring the Lucky Strike Company and over 200 other rival firms. The company built processing plants and warehouses in Reidsville, North Carolinamarker and Durhammarker. Antitrust action begun in 1907 against the American Tobacco Company, which broke the company into several major companies in 1911. Those companies include:

The American Tobacco Company, which started acquiring a wide range of non-tobacco products during the 1970s and 1980s, renamed itself American Brands in 1986, and has since been renamed Fortune Brands. American Tobacco became a subsidiary of American Brands for the next ten years until the company shed its tobacco brands to competitors.

More recent history

At the same time as the anti-trust action in 1911, the company's share in British American Tobacco (BAT) was sold. In 1994 BAT acquired its former parent, American Tobacco Company (though reorganized after anti-trust proceedings). This brought the Lucky Strike and Pall Mall brands into BAT's portfolio as part of BAT's American arm, Brown & Williamson. B&W later merged with R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in 2004.

American Tobacco left Reidsville and Durham in the late 1980s.


In 2004, the previously abandoned American Tobacco Campus (ATC) in Durham was reopened as a complex of offices, shops, and restaurants. Developed by Capitol Broadcasting and reopened as the American Tobacco Historic District; Phase 1 consisted of the Fowler, Crowe, Strickland, Reed, and Washington Buildings, and included the construction of two new parking garages and a water feature through the center of the campus developed and constructed by W.P.Law Inc. based in Lexington, South Carolina. Phase 2, consisting of the remaining buildings at the north end of the site, is under construction as of late 2006. Many office spaces in the ATC are now used by Duke Universitymarker.

The American Tobacco Trailmarker, named for the company, is a multi-use rail-trail that begins just south of the Durham complex and runs towards Chatham and Wake counties. It follows the route of a railroad that once served the factories, but was later abandoned when these facilities shut down.


In the golden age of radio, as well as early television, American Tobacco was known for advertisements featuring a fast-talking tobacco auctioneer named L.A. "Speed" Riggs. His rapid-fire and song-like patter would always end with the exclamation, "SOLD, American!" Another famous tobacco auctioneer, F.E. Boone, was often heard in tandem with Riggs.


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