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Tobacco Workers International Union (TWIU) records

 Collection 0105-LBR

Founded in 1895 as the National Tobacco Workers Union of America, the Tobacco Workers International Union merged in 1978 with the Bakery and Confectionery Workers International Union to form the Bakery, Confectionery, and Tobacco Workers International Union. The Tobacco Workers International Union (TWIU) records date from 1894-1989 and include administrative files, organizers' correspondence and reports, documentation of locals' activities and charters, financial records, memorabilia, publications, and photographs.


  • 1894-1989

Use and Access to Collection

Series 1-6 of this collection are open to the public and must be used in the Special Collections reading room. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

Series 7-11 are minimally processed. This means that materials are in the same state we received them and may not have been reviewed for content or condition. The collection may need to be screened prior to use. Please contact us before visiting the Special Collections reading room to view this collection. Preliminary inventories are is available under the Inventories/Additional Information section.

Series 11 (Accession 1990-044) contains restricted material. Please check the series and folder listings for additional information.

This collection contains audiovisual materials. Items that cannot be used in the Special Collections reading room or are too fragile for researchers require that a digital copy be made prior to use. If you would like to access these materials, please contact us prior to your visit, so we may determine the proper steps to be taken.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


261.35 Linear Feet (Total extent. See Series records for extent details.)

130.35 Linear Feet (Processed material. 244 Hollinger boxes, 2 Half-Hollinger boxes, and 6 oversize boxes.)

13 Folders (Processed material. 13 Oversized folders.)

131 Linear Feet (Unprocessed material. Additional unprocessed materials are: 87 Paige boxes and 1 Hollinger box.)

Scope and Contents

The Tobacco Workers International Union (TWIU) records date from 1896 to 1979. They consist of a wide range of materials and include: organizing, R. J. Reynolds, Recall convention, International Union of Food and Allied Workers, strikes, jurisdictional disputes, CIO, grievances, sick and death benefits, bargaining, mergers of locals, tobacco code, cigarette tax, constitutions and amendments, convention referendum, smoking and health, and International Cigarmakers Union. Series 10 contains including substantial records and documentation pertaining to the landmark NLRB racial discrimination case, Dorothy P. Robinson et al. vs. Lorillard Corporation, as well as a near-complete print run of The Tobacco Worker. Correspondents include: E. Lewis Evans, Samuel Evans, John O’Hare, R.J. Petree, W. Warren Smith, Abrams Sheines, William Green, George Meany, R.G. Powell, Joseph Lentie, George Benjamin, E. L. Crouch, I. M. Ornburn, and Renee Rondou.

Biographical / Historical

In 1895, representatives of ten local unions met in St. Louis, Missouri to found the National Tobacco Workers Union of America and they were granted a charter from the American Federation of Labor (AFL). In 1899, the union's name was changed to the Tobacco Workers International Union (TWIU). Subsequently, the AFL recognized the TWIU as the official national union representing workers in the tobacco industry, primarily in factories that produced cigarettes. The union's major campaign in the early years was centered around the union label, and the label became a symbol of independence from the tobacco trust.

In their efforts to organize the industry, the union faced the opposition of the American Tobacco Company which, at the time, had almost monopolized cigarette production in the United States. After years of unsuccessful effort, the TWIU ended its campaign to organize American Tobacco and retreated to organizing smaller less powerful tobacco manufacturers, primarily in the South.

By the turn of the 20th century, the TWIU was able to unionize a minor segment of the tobacco workforce, involving a few hundred workers. In the 1930s major organizational campaigns were begun in Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina, and in 1933 the union signed a contract with Brown & Williams including Union Shop, checkoff, and the use of the union label. The union’s approach was to sell the management of smaller companies the right to use the union label on cigarette packs in exchange for a closed shop. This was often done with little or no knowledge of the workers involved who would find out about the backroom deals when union dues were subtracted from their paychecks. This private cooperative approach with management meant that TWIU members wages were often lower than non-union workers. Black employees were concentrated in the preparation departments where they manually cleaned, stemmed, blended, and conditioned tobacco. White workers operated and maintained the machinery making cigarettes. Supervisory and management personnel were exclusively white. Black workers’ wages were at best subsistence level, benefits were few, and in some cases, workers draped themselves in used burlap tobacco bags to keep warm on the job during the winter. Women workers, black and white, faced routine verbal and sexual abuse. Overall, conditions in the tobacco industry remained little changed from the era of slavery.

During World War I, the TWIU had significant success in organizing tobacco workers in a more public way, most notably at the R. J. Reynolds Company in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. By 1920, the union claimed 15,200 members, but a counter offensive by tobacco management rapidly reduced membership to an all-time low of 1,500 by 1925. Despite many organizing defeats, the union leadership continued its conservative approach. The TWIU did not even call a convention and have any black unionists in the national leadership between 1900 and 1939. It continued it segregationist practices from its founding, recognizing separate unequal local unions, separate wage scales and seniority ladders, and exclusion of African Americans from the best paid jobs.

With the advent of the New Deal and the Wagner Act legalizing union organization, the TWIU made modest gains negotiating union contracts with Liggett & Myers, American Tobacco, and Philip Morris. The new members led an internal insurgency overthrowing the conservative national leadership. Subsequently, the new leadership made some limited progress in reducing racial divisions within the union by supporting a new black vice-president and developing joint integrated shop committees. By 1942, and TWIU membership had increased to 20,000.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the rise of the Civil Rights movement had a significant impact on the TWIU. By 1963, segregated locals were merged into single integrated locals. In 1965, the union began phasing out separate job progression ladders and adopting plant wide seniority. And in the wake of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, women union activists began the first major effort to establish gender equality in the tobacco industry. In this same period, tobacco management began a major investment in new production technology. This resulted in large scale elimination of jobs, particularly in traditionally African American positions. In addition, management sought to counter the pro-union influence of the Civil Rights movement by using the introduction of new technology to restructure the workforce. The reassertion of the tradition of hiring white people into jobs involving operating and maintaining the increasingly productive machinery resulted in a smaller, but whiter labor force, while black workers continued to be hired into remaining manual jobs such as janitors.

In the late 1960s, the TWIU attempted to counter this new management strategy. Initially, the union was successful when it led a strike at American Tobacco, the first post-World War II strike in the industry. Significant wage gains were achieved, but the issues of equality and technological job elimination were not addressed in the settlement. The TWIU’s new attempt to reverse industry trends was cut short when it suffered a major defeat in a union recognition election at R. J. Reynolds in 1974. From that point, the TWIU was not able to establish any new union strength in the tobacco industry and merged with another union to seek security that a larger organization provided thus forming the Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers in 1979.


This collection is organized into six processed series and five minimally processed series.

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

Tobacco Workers International Union records were first donated to University of Maryland Libraries on May 1, 1977 by Homer Cole and the Tobacco Workers International Union (TWIU). Additional donations by TWIU or Renee Rondou were made in 1968, 1972, 1986, and 1989.

Existence and Location of Copies

Series 1, Boxes 1-39 are also available on microfilm.

Digital reproductions of Tobacco Workers International Union, Series 1 are available electronically at

The Tobacco Worker (1897-1924) publication in Series 10, Box 24 is also available on microfilm and as a bound print copy in Special Collections. To request these copies please refer to the catalog record.

Related Materials

Related materials providing access to the records of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) records may be found in the University of Maryland Libraries, College Park, MD.

Processing Information

The TWIU records came to the University of Maryland’s Special Collections in six separate accessions from 1972 to 1989. In 1979, Mary Bocaccio processed the core accession received May 1, 1977, creating a finding aid with five series: administration, organizers, locals, finances, and publications. The records were placed into acid-free folders and acid-free document boxes. Oversized items and memorabilia were separated from the collection and housed in format-appropriate enclosures, and photographs were separated, with some affixed to cardboard backings, and stored in the Biographical Print Files collection. In July 2011, the photographs were reassociated with the TWIU records. In 2023, Rosemarie Fettig migrated the PDF of the legacy finding aid into the existing collection resource record. This work included manually extracting OCR-generated text from the scanned PDF of the legacy finding aid into the ArchivesSpace bulk import spreadsheet and applying necessary reformatting of the metadata in order to create series- and folder-level records within the collection resource record, maintaining the series established in the legacy finding aid.

Four additional accessions were received between 1972 and 1989, totaling over 100 linear feet. Accessioned material that was not incorporated into the finding aid was minimally processed in 2023-2024. Administrative files in the archive were reviewed, and all accessions not previously inventoried were inventoried and described by Rosemarie Fettig and Jasper Nash.

Existing and created inventories were entered into the Resource Record using the ArchivesSpace bulk import spreadsheet. The memorabilia, which had been separated from the core accession 1977-007, was inventoried on an item-level, while other unprocessed materials were inventoried at a box level. All accession records were updated including content descriptions, dates, extents and notes. To make this material accessible, a series level record was added for each accession in the finding aid, listing the accessions by the accession number and including a descriptive title with dates. The memorabilia included oversized charters of locals which were incorporated into Series 3: Locals, and arranged intellectually by local number.

Microfilm of original records was matched with Series 1, Boxes 1-39. The original boxed records can be requested; to request microfilm copies, please contact the Collection Curator.

4 aural tapes are also represented the TWIU administrative files. However, they were also included in the BCTGM finding aid under 1972-048-LBR (as untitled, undated). Determining the content on the tape reels to associate with either BCTGM or TWIU is not possible unless the original media is played back.

Accession 1990-044 needs reappraisal and reorganization to address discovered Personally Identifiable Information (PII). At the time of review, several boxes were restricted and the accession was only given a box list due to limited time and staff available.

For processing information about specific accessions, please open the series level record for more details.

Guide to the Tobacco Workers International Union (TWIU) records
Minimally Processed
Mary Boccaccio processed this collection in 1979. Jennifer Gathings Eidson, Rosemarie Fettig, and Jasper Nash minimally processed additional materials in 2024.
May 1979
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Revision Statements

  • 2007-04-15: EAD markup checked and verified using JEdit software by Jennie A. Levine, April 2007.
  • 2019-01-17: Minor updates and revisition made post ArchivesSpace migration by Joanne Archer.
  • 2024-05-14: Minimal processing of additional accessions was completed by Jennifer Gathings Eidson, Rosemarie Fettig, and Jasper Nash including a major enhancement of the abstract finding aid for access to processed and unprocessed materials, additional inventories, and description at all levels.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742