Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company (L&M) has existed in some form since before the War of 1812. It began to establish itself in St. Louis, Missouri, in the 1860s, and the company was incorporated in 1873. Liggett & Myers specialized in plug tobacco, a form of chewing tobacco, but they soon began producing cigarettes, as well.

Like St. Louis, Durham, North Carolina, was a center of tobacco production after the Civil War. Union soldiers who had passed through Durham returned north wanting the fine tobacco they had found in North Carolina. The Bull Durham Tobacco Company answered this call and by 1884 had around 900 employees. Soon, however, the Duke family rose as a formidable competitor to Bull Durham. Led by James Buchanan Duke, Washington Duke & Sons focused its energies on cigarettes and innovative methods of production. It quickly became a leading cigarette manufacturer in the country. In the late 1880s, James B. Duke engineered a merger of the five leading cigarette companies, and the American Tobacco Company (ATC) was incorporated in 1890. It began acquiring smaller companies throughout the nation, including L&M, which it bought in 1899.

In 1911, a Supreme Court decision found the ATC guilty of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act, a law passed in 1890 to prevent business monopolies. As a result of that ruling, American Tobacco Company was divided into four companies: the American Tobacco Company, Liggett & Myers Tobacco, P. Lorillard, and R.J. Reynolds. L&M occupied a large factory in downtown Durham and manufactured, among others, Chesterfield brand cigarettes. It operated in the Durham location until 2000 when it moved to a new factory in Mebane, North Carolina, about 30 miles west of Durham.

Cigarette manufacturing, which became the backbone of the U.S. tobacco industry, came to Durham in 1880 and left 120 years later, in 2000. The industry transformed the town from a small stop on the North Carolina Railroad line to a thriving metropolis. Laura Drey's photographs have enabled the library to depict a historic time--L&M's last year in Durham--and the complicated process of manufacturing cigarettes--an industry vital to Durham's history--in an exhibit that chronicles the end of an era.

Since Liggett Group, formerly known as Liggett & Myers, moved its factory to Mebane, North Carolina, in 2000, it has spent millions of dollars on new equipment. Many of the machines pictured in this exhibition are no longer used, including the 379 packers and the dryers.

The Durham complex was sold to Blue Devil Partners, a development company formed by former Duke University basketball players Christian Laettner and Brian Davis, in partnership with Tom Niemann, a Duke Business School alumnus. The former factory has been converted into a mixed-use complex including shopping, dining, commercial, and residential space.

Librarian Lynn Richardson was delighted when photographer Laura Drey offered Durham County Library's North Carolina Collection copies of her photographs of Liggett & Myers's final days in Durham. 

The following people were instrumental in the creation of this exhibition:

Laura Drey, photographer, who shared her photographs with the Durham County Library's North Carolina Collection so that they could, in turn, be shared with residents of Durham County and beyond.

Johanna Russ, exhibition designer and graduate student, School of Information and Library Science, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, without whose time and expertise this web exhibit would not exist.

Durham County Library employees Lynn Richardson, North Carolina Collection librarian, who oversaw the project from beginning to end, and reference department assistant Patricia Dew and web master Jill Wagy, for their invaluable technical assistance.

This exhibit was updated in 2024 by Alexandra Gaines.