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Cigar Makers' International Union of America records

 Collection 0097-LBR

The Cigar Makers International Union of America (CMIUA) was formed in 1864 as the Cigar Makers National Union of the United States and became international in 1867 with the affiliation of Canadian locals. Samuel Gompers was instrumental in the growth of the union. The union merged with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Workers Union in 1974. Union documentation includes administrative files, records of locals, financial records, convention proceedings, and publications. Important subjects include strikes and strike negotiations, benefits, amalgamation, per capita tax, cigar making machinery, union labels, cooperatives, insurance, and Communism. Also documented are bank failures of the 1930's, the National Labor Relations Board, labor contracts, and organization of locals.


  • 1856-1974
  • Majority of material found within 1930-1974

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open for research.

Duplication and Copyright Information

Photocopies of original materials may be provided for a fee and at the discretion of the curator. Please see our Duplication of Materials policy for more information. Queries regarding publication rights and copyright status of materials within this collection should be directed to the appropriate curator.


31 microfilms (The microfilms are numbered 1-30, however there are two for 22: 22A and 22B.)

3.50 Linear Feet (Five full document boxes, one half document box, one oversize box.)

6 Folders (6 folders of photographs)

Scope and Content of Collection

The records of the Cigar Makers International Union of America (CMIUA) cover the period 1856 to 1974. The records consist of correspondence, reports, newspaper clippings, financial records, convention proceedings, publications, and telegrams. Additiona types of historical materials included are pamphlets, retirement cards, constitutions, strike agreements, membership statements dues journals, and field reports.

Important subjects covered in the collection include: strikes, strike negotiations, benefits, amalgamation, per capita tax, cigar making machinery, union labels, cooperatives, insurance, and communism. Also documented are the bank failures of the 1930s, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), labor contracts, and organization of locals. Research in these subjects will be abetted by a large number of field reports submitted by agents, proceedings of CMIUA meetings, strike agreements, and the complete or partial records of over 150 locals.

Important correspondents include: A.P. Bower, R.E. Van Horn, Carl Swisher, Claude Pepper, Thomas Finn, George Googe, Manuel Garcia, R.J. Petree, Rivera Martinez, Francis Sack, Maurice Simons, Bob Perez, S.L. Devin, Mauricio Torre, Albert D'Arpa, Frank Diez, Hubert Humphrey, Richard Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, Charles Rohler, Helen Milburger, Otto Dehn, William Green, I.M. Ornburn, George L. Berry, Frank Fenton, Mario Azpeitia, Maude Lenz, George Meany, Oliver Maxwell, Samuel Gompers, and Joseph Lewis.

Administrative History

In 1864, delegates from local cigar makers' unions in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and a number of other cities met in New York to form the Cigar Makers National Union of the United States; only hand cigar makers were allowed to join the union. At this meeting, Andrew Zeitler was elected the union's first president. Cigar makers had organized locally as early as 1845 in Cincinnati, but no national organization had been attempted. The union became international in 1867 when a number of Canadian locals affiliated with it; it was subsequently renamed the Cigar Makers International Union of America (CMIUA).

In 1869, a group of disgruntled cigar makers led by Adolph Strasser formed a new union, the United Cigar Makers of New York (UCMNY). Their union admitted all cigar makers, whether their product was made entirely by hand or fashioned with the assistance of a mold. In 1875, CMIUA President George Hurst called for a joint meeting of the two groups in the first issue of the Cigar Makers Official Journal. At this meeting; the UCMNY affiliated with the CMIUA and was designated Local 144; its president was Samuel Gompers, and the financial secretary was Adolph Strasser.

Strasser and Gompers were inextricably linked to the CMIUA for a number of years. Strasser served as the Union's president from 1877 to 1891. His first term began during one of America's worst depressions; in 1887 the CMIUA had only seventeen locals, an all-time low, and many cigar makers were out of work. In that same year, Local 144 in New York successfully struck for shorter hours and higher wages; cigar makers utilized the strike method before, in 1851 in Baltimore, but it had not been successful for the laborers. In 1881 under Strasser's administration, all cigar packers, selectors, strippers, bunch breakers, and rollers were made eligible for membership in the CMIUA at the option of the local. Local 144 also produced Samuel Gompers who, in 1875, was appointed an international organizer for the union, and in 1886, became a vice-president.

The CMIUA played significant role in the formation of the American Federation of Labor. In August 1881, Gompers, Strasser and several other CMIUA delegates met with representatives from other trade unions in Terre Haute, Indiana, to discuss the possibility of uniting into a single union. In November 1881, they met in Pittsburgh and formed the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (FOTLU) of the United States of America and Canada. It held five annual conventions. In 1886 it merged with the American Federation of Labor (AFL), and Gompers was elected President.

In 1891 George W. Perkins was elected president of the CMIUA, a post he would hold until 1927. During his tenure, the union experienced unprecedented growth and faced some of its greatest challenges. In 1916, the union recorded its highest membership, 53,000 workers, which represented approximately one-half of all cigar workers. During the era of reform, Perkins led his unions in the fight against child labor and convict contract labor. He also fought for sick and death benefits, which were awarded at the union's thirteenth convention, and for group insurance, which was added in 1913. Perkins also campaigned for cleaner working conditions, as he felt a sanitary atmosphere would lower the occurrence of tuberculosis, the leading cause of death among cigar-makers in the late nineteenth century.

One of the chief issues faced by Perkins and all subsequent presidents was automation in the cigar-making plants, which was introduced around 1900. Labor's basic guideline had always been allowed by automation. The cigar makers were somewhat successful in the early years of the twentieth century in keeping automation from usurping labor; however, they gradually lost the battle. In 1920 there were approximately 125,000 cigar workers in the industry with about 67,000 belonging to the CMIUA. By 1963 there were only 30,000 workers and only 10,000 CMIUA members, with half of those being women. Conversely, production had increased twofold, with 4 billion cigars produced in 1920 and 8 billion in 1963.

After 1920, CMIUA's membership gradually declined and the focus of the industry steadily drifted from the northern industrial cities to the South, where cheap labor was plentiful. The industry also became more and more dependent on Cuban tobacco and benefits were reduced. The union's sick and out-of-work benefits were discontinued in 1928; death benefits were terminated in 1933, leaving only the strike benefit. As the union's size dwindled, the question of amalgamation of the CMIUA with the Tobacco Workers International Union arose. After several years of discussion, a joint convention of the two international unions was held at Philadelphia in September 1948. The meeting was addressed by President William Green of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and I. M. Ornburn, former president of the CMIUA. In separate sessions, it was decided to forego amalgamation but to continue to study the matter.

In 1964 the CMIUA celebrated their 100th anniversary, but the union was on the decline. Increasing automation, the ambargo of Cuban tobacco and consumer preference for cigarettes all combined to weaken the union. The Cigar Maker's Official Journal was discontinued in 1972. By 1974 the total membership had shrunk to approximately 2,500 and the union decided to affiliate with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Workers Union.

Biographical / Historical

Partial List of the Presidents

Name and year their term began.

  1. Andrew Zeitler, 1864
  2. L.C. Walker, 1865
  3. John J. Blend, 1868
  4. Edwin Johnson, 1871
  5. William J. Cannon, 1873
  6. George Hurst, 1875
  7. Adolph Strasser, 1877
  8. G.W. Perkins, 1891
  9. I.M. Ornburn, 1927
  10. R.E. Van Horn, 1936
  11. A.P. Bower, 1944
  12. Mario Azpeitia, 1948


This collection is organized as eight series:

Series 1
Series 2
Series 3
Financial Records
Series 4
Series 5
Series 6
Series 7
Audio Tapes
Series 8

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The archives of the Cigar Makers International Union of America were donated ot the University of Maryland at College Park Libraries in November 1974 by National Capital Labor History Society with the assistance of Dr. Stuart Kaufman, professor of history and the editor of the Samuel Gompers Papers. Additional materials were donated by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Workers Union.

Existence and Location of Copies

The majority of this collection is only available on microfilm.

Related Material

A number of materials related to the CMIUA can be found in the Special Collections and University Archives of the University of Maryland at College Park Libraries. The historical records of the Tobacco Workers International Union (TWIU) are located in the Special Collections and University Archives, as are the records of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) which merged with the TWIU in 1979.

The Special Collections also possess a CMIUA membership file, consisting of approximately 140,000 cards, which is divided into five sections: a) suspended members; b) absolute retiring cards; c) deceased members; d) membership application cards; and e) active memberhsip cards to merger (1974).

The Marylandia Department has on microfilm issues of the Cigar Makers Official Journal (1875-1972) (M-film HD6350.C5C5) and scattered issues of El Internacional, the official journal of the Tamp local of the CMIUA which is in Spanish Progress (1882-1885), the newletter of the Cigarmaker's Progressive Union of American (HD6515.C54P7 oversize). Also housed in the Marylandia Department is a special edition of the Cigar Makers' Official Journal entitled 100 Years with the Cigar Makers, 1864-1964: 100th Anniversary Journal (1964) (HD6515.C45C5 folio) and an aural tape of the special convention, held on March 23, 1974, which approved the merger of the CMIUA with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Workers Union (Tape HD6515.C54C53).

Processing Information

Eight series have been created from the CMIUA records. Duplicate items have been destroyed. The collection was microfilmed in 1982. After microfilming, a majority of the collection was discarded. The paper materials that have been retained are stored in acid free folders or are encapsulated in mylar. Oversize items have been transferred to flat storage. Photographs, audio tapes and memorabilia have been transferred to their respective collections within the Special Collections and University Archives.

The majority of materials which comprise the archives of the Cigar Makers International Union of America exist only in microfilm form and the corresponding reel and frame numbers appear on the inventory. The paper copy of some of the files was preserved after microfilming and originally an asterisk (*) following the frame number to indicate the existence of both hard copy and microfilm of these materials. In some instances, only a paper copy exists for particular files; listings for these files have been inserted in the microfilm inventory in their proper series and alphabetical sequence and originally the letters "h.c." were used in place of the frame number to indicate that only a hard copy is available. In addition, the original finding aid listed the box inventories of the hard copy files appear at the end of the microfilm listing for each related series (Series 1, 4, and 5).

Bria Parker ingested the finding aid into ArchivesSpace in 2018; a second import was necessary in 2019 because initially not all of the series migrated properly. Emily Flint and Jennifer Eidson then reviewed the descriptive content for accuracy. Researchers should note the difference in how the microfilm and hard copy of materials is now displayed differently. There are no longer asterisks (*) or "h.c." used to differentiate the formats. Now, microfilm is listed by reel and frame. If the original documents are available to request, they are shown as box and folder. Additional revisions include minor edits to biographical/historical notes, scope and content notes, the creation of new collection numbers, and revised collection titles to better conform to archival standards.

Guide to the Cigar Makers' International Union of America records
Processed by Enid Ocasio and Jonathan Jeffrey.
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

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

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