Creating an American Commodity, 1617–1937
In her sweeping history of the American tobacco industry, Barbara Hahn traces the emergence of the tobacco plant’s many varietal types, arguing that they are products not of nature but of economic relations and continued and intense market regulation.
Hahn focuses her study on the most popular of these varieties, Bright Flue-Cured Tobacco. First grown in the inland Piedmont along the Virginia–North Carolina border, Bright Tobacco now grows all over the world, primarily because of its unique—and easily replicated—cultivation and curing methods. Hahn traces the evolution of technologies in a variety of regulatory and cultural environments to reconstruct how Bright Tobacco became, and remains to this day, a leading commodity in the global tobacco industry.
This study asks not what effect tobacco had on the world market, but how that market shaped tobacco into types that served specific purposes and became distinguishable from one another more by technologies of production than genetics. In so doing, it explores the intersection of crossbreeding, tobacco-raising technology, changing popular demand, attempts at regulation, and sheer marketing ingenuity during the heyday of the American tobacco industry.
Combining economic theory with the history of technology, Making Tobacco Bright revises several narratives in American history, from colonial staple-crop agriculture to the origins of the tobacco industry to the rise of identity politics in the twentieth century.