R. J. Reynolds historical marker

R. J. Reynolds 1850-1918 (J-72)

Founder of R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. In 1875 built his first factory in Winston. Grave 1 block E.

Location: South Main Street at Cemetery Street in Winston-Salem
County: Forsyth
Original Date Cast: 1976

Richard Joshua Reynolds, the founder of one of North Carolina’s most prosperous corporations, was born in Patrick County, Virginia, on July 20, 1850. Reynolds grew up as part of a large and affluent family, with opportunities for education as well as for learning the family’s tobacco business. He attended Emory and Henry College from 1868 to 1870, but left to work in his father’s tobacco factory. In 1873 he paid for his instruction at Bryant and Stratton Business College in Baltimore by selling his father’s chewing tobacco to local merchants. Reynolds returned home and entered into partnership with his father on July 1, 1873. The following year, R. J. Reynolds decided to venture into business for himself, and on October 19, 1874, purchased a town lot in Winston. There he built a factory with railway connections. In his first year of operation, he manufactured about 150,000 pounds of Southern flat plug chewing tobacco. By the 1890s his annual production was in the millions of pounds.

In the late 1880s R. J. Reynolds revolutionized the chewing tobacco industry with the addition of saccharine to his durable flue-cured chew. Recognizing the potential in his new product, Reynolds built a tremendous new factory and secured new rail connections for Winston and Salem. In 1907 he introduced his Prince Albert smoking tobacco, and in 1911 Reynolds followed up with his Camel cigarette, the first genuinely American cigarette and the first to be mass produced. The R. J. Reynolds brands and products were driving forces in the tobacco industry. Reynolds advocated good relations with his employees and offered profit-sharing in the company long before it became an expected benefit. He amassed great wealth and found philanthropic ways to share it.

R. J. Reynolds married Mary Katherine Smith on February 27, 1905, and built what is today known at Reynolda House in 1917. Together they had four children. Reynolds died on July 29, 1918, after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He is buried at Salem Cemetery. The Reynolds descendants have continued to follow his philanthropic example, with charitable foundations in North Carolina and beyond.

Nannie M. Tilley, The R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (1985)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, V, 203-204—sketch by Nannie M. Tilley
Howard E. Covington Jr. and Marion A. Ellis, eds., The North Carolina Century: Tar Heels Who Made a Difference, 1900-2000 (2002)
“The North Carolina Magazine Business Hall of Fame,” North Carolina (November 1987) p. 34
“Voyage into the Unknown,” Forbes, December 1, 1971, pp. 30-33

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