James Albert Bonsack

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Bonsack's cigarette rolling machine, as shown on U.S. patent 238,640.

James Albert Bonsack (October 9, 1859,[1][2] – June 1, 1924) was an American inventor who invented an early cigarette rolling machine in 1880.

Prior to that time, cigarettes had been rolled by hand. Readymade cigarettes were a luxury item, but became increasingly popular.[3] The slow manual fabrication process—a skilled cigarette roller could produce only about four cigarettes per minute on average[4]—was insufficient to satisfy the demands in the 1870s. In 1875, the Allen and Ginter company in Richmond, Virginia, offered a prize of US$75,000 (equal to $1,746,136 today) for the invention of a machine able to roll cigarettes. Bonsack took up the challenge and left school to devote his time to building such a machine.[3] In 1880, he had a first working prototype, which was destroyed by a fire while in storage at Lynchburg, Virginia.[4] Bonsack rebuilt it and filed a patent application on September 4, 1880.[3] The patent was granted the following year (U.S. patents 238,640[2] from March 8, 1881 and 247,795[5] from October 4, 1881). Bonsack's machine was able to produce 120,000 cigarettes in 10 hours,[4] (200 per minute), revolutionizing the cigarette industry.[3]


The census-designated place of Bonsack, Virginia, located in Roanoke County, was named after James Bonsack, who lived in this town located along route 460 between Roanoke and Bedford.[6]


  1. ^ Ancestry of James Albert Bonsack Archived 2007-10-20 at the Wayback Machine. URL last accessed 2006-10-11.
  2. ^ a b U.S. patent 238,640, with diagrams. URL last accessed 2006-10-11.
  3. ^ a b c d Bennett, W.: The Cigarette Century[permanent dead link], Science 80, September/October 1980. URL last accessed 2006-10-11.
  4. ^ a b c Bonsack's cigarette machine Archived 2006-11-13 at the Wayback Machine. URL last accessed 2006-10-11.
  5. ^ U.S. patent 247,795, with diagrams. URL last accessed 2006-10-11
  6. ^ Prince Edward County seal – wheat sheaf vs tobacco hand, The Farmville Herald, Prince Edward County, September 24, 2004

Further reading[edit]

  • Tilley, N. M.: The bright-tobacco industry, 1860 - 1929; Arno Press, 1972; ISBN 0-405-04728-2.

External links[edit]