Cigar manufacturing in Oskaloosa, Iowa began with Fred Beckman in 1856. Fred’s cigar factory was on the south side of the Oskaloosa square. He made cigars for forty-four years. At one time, his factory was producing 150,000 cigars a month.
Most Oskaloosa cigar factories were small and employed less than five people. Some “factories” were operated out of the owner’s home. Others occupied the second story of downtown buildings. They were often a retail store selling smokers’ supplies as well as making cigars. Most didn’t stay in business very long.
One of the largest cigar factories in Oskaloosa was J. W. Hetherington & Co., 415 West High Avenue. They were in business making cigars from 1888 until 1906. In 1892 they had twenty-five employees and were turning out 120,000 cigar a month.
The heyday of the cigar industry in Oskaloosa was a twenty-year period from the mid-1880’s until about 1908. In 1899, sixty people were employed in the cigar factories with total monthly wages paid of $2,400. In 1901, a total of one hundred people were employed in the city’s six cigar factories. Nine cigar factories were operating in 1905 with a total employment of 75 people.
Because of an economic downturn and increased competition, the cigar industry struggled during the 1910’s. There was a little resurgence after World War I, but cigar manufacturing in Oskaloosa was effectively over by the mid-1920’s.