Collection ID: 2014.028

Collection context


Kimball Tobacco Company
1.5 Cubic Feet and 1 box, 1 OS folder


Scope and Content:

This collection consists of ephemera from W. S. Kimball & Company,a major Rochester, New York tobacco products manufacturer. The company is possibly best remembered for its once-landmark factory, the smokestack of which was capped with the statue of Mercury now atop the Aqueduct Building. The items in this collection were recovered from a time capsule in the cornerstone of the building at the time of its demolition in 1951. Materials in the collection include advertising pieces, packaging, box labels, price cards, and newspapers, dating between 1878 and 1885.

Biographical / Historical:

William S. Kimball was born March 30, 1837 in Boscawen, New Hampshire. He apprenticed at the Lawrence Locomotive Works before studying engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Following his graduation, he lived in Concord, New Hampshire before moving to Rochester, New York in 1858. During the Civil War, Kimball enlisted in the Navy, serving as an engineer officer on several ships.

Returning to Rochester after resigning his commission in June 1863, Kimball became part owner of a tobacco firm founded by Henry Suggett in 1846. Upon Suggett's retirement in 1867, Kimball became sole owner of the company, naming it William S. Kimball & Co., Peerless Tobacco Works. Kimball's engineering training led to him developing new, mechanized ways of producing tobacco products. Most notably, Kimball partnered with fellow former Navy officer Oscar Allison to form the Allison Machine and Tool Company to build a revolutionary high-speed cigarette rolling machine. He also placed an early emphasis on colorful and vibrant marketing for his company's products, the results of which can be seen in this collection.

By the 1880s, Kimball employed over 1200 people in his company, which moved to its famous James Cutler Gould-designed factory at Court St. and Exchange Boulevard in 1880. This factory is well-remembered for the 21-foot tall statue of Mercury that stood atop its stack, and that still graces the Rochester skyline on the Aqueduct Building. The factory stayed in operation for 23 years; Kimball sold his company to American Tobacco in 1890, which shut down the plant and moved its operations south by 1903. The building had a long afterlife: home to clothing manufacturer Cluet-Peabody from 1923 to 1924; sold to George Eastman in 1924, who left it to the University of Rochester in his will. The University leased the building to the City of Rochester for municipal offices until 1951, when it was demolished to make room for the War Memorial.

William S. Kimball was a noted society figure and leader of the Rochester Chamber of Commerce. He served on the boards of numerous local businesses, and was noted for his collection of orchids. Kimball married Marion Elizabeth Keeler on October 7, 1858. They had two children before Marion passed away. He remarried to Laura Page Mitchell of Rochester on August 11, 1880. They also had two children. Kimball passed away on March 26, 1895 in Virginia Beach, the victim of a mastoid infection of the brain. He is buried in Rochester's Mount Hope Cemetery.

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


Rundel Memorial Building
115 South Avenue
Rochester, NY 14604, United States