During the big war, we’re talking about the Civil War, Union soldiers discovered something the boys in gray already knew; southern tobacco was very good. When the Yankees returned to their northern homes, they yearned to draw-in the aroma of freshly roasted tobacco. They craved the top grade Bright Leaf tobacco, so much that they ordered the products to be shipped to them. Put that in your peace pipe and smoke it!
When tobacco was king, so was Durham. The crown jewel was The American Tobacco Company. The company was one of the original 12 members of the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 1896. The American Tobacco Company dominated the industry by acquiring the Lucky Strike Company and over 200 other rival firms.
Throughout our history, Capitol Broadcasting Company has been intertwined with tobacco one way or the other. As a media company based at the geographic stem of the tobacco leaf, it was inevitable. CBC had the successful Tobacco News Network led by legendary farm reporter Ray Wilkinson.
And what a coincidence on December 15, 1956, WRAL’s first day of broadcasting, the popular NBC show, “Lucky Strike presents Your Hit Parade” aired on Channel 5.
Today our involvement is not with the tobacco industry, but with the discarded buildings that processed the leaf. In 1987, the tobacco industry in Durham simply dried up and so did the jobs that stoked the economic engine in the area. The doors to the enormous American Tobacco buildings that dominated the city’s landscape for over a century closed almost overnight. The complex fell into disrepair, but in 1995, it was time for CBC to reinvigorate and light up the Lucky Strike and American Tobacco Company area of Durham. Instead of a place to flee, it would become a place to be. It would be a place where seeds of innovation could be cultivated, planted, matured and then placed on the market.
The best way to find out how the American Tobacco Campus went from zero to hero, click on the following link and watch, “Because No One Else Would.”
Thanks to Corp’s Pam Allen for this capcom story & these photos. Pam Parris Allen is a former WRAL newscast producer/director who now works as a researcher and producer on the CBC History Project.