Catalog Number: 1981.023.01
“John Dengler’s Capital for 5 cents is a gentleman’s smoke” advertised the Daily Tribune.
Cigar making used to be a rather significant industry in La Crosse, and the town once housed about twenty-six cigar factories. Admittedly, most of them were on a smaller scale. The industry was practically eliminated by the late 1930s, with the inability for local factories to compete with the nationally advertised brands, as well as the change from handmade to machine made cigars.
The average pay for a worker rolling cigars would be about 70 cents for every one hundred cigars. One worker could usually hand roll four to five hundred cigars in a day, though that was in an assembly line model of production, with other people doing different parts of the manufacturing process such as breaking bunches, and dampening the rolled tobacco so the cigars wouldn’t crack and dry, as well as capping and storing them. If a worker were to do the entirety of this process themselves from beginning to end, then a good roller could make about 100 to 150 cigars in a work day.
The history of the John Dengler Cigar Company is also very interestingly tied to the history of La Crosse itself. John Dengler was born in Austria, and came to the United States with his parents in 1856 when he was seven years old. He entered the cigar manufacturing industry at age eleven, and became a journeyman (someone who was still a sort of apprentice but earning wages for their work) at age fifteen. He eventually became a foreman at the Pamperin Cigar Co, but he left with a number of other workers when they wanted to form a union. They formed the John Dengler Cigar Company, which was located on the southwest corner of 3rd and State Streets.
During his two terms as mayor, from 1889-91, and 1911-13, he helped create a bridge from Wisconsin into Minnesota. Dengler was also on the police and fire commission for fourteen years, and served as the president of the Board of Trade.
This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on July 14, 2018.