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Morris Newlander was my great-grandfather Isaac Kishinevsky’s older brother. Practically from the time he arrived in Chicago from Tiraspol, Morris owned a cigar factory of one sort or another.

Van-Loo cigar label (Collection of the Author)

Business names and year of establishment were M Newlander & Company in 1899, Van Loo Cigar Company in 1911, and La Polina cigars (year unknown). The first company was formed with partners W Warshawer and Lawrence Schat. He also owned farm land in New Hampton, Iowa and Vanceburg, Kentucky on which he grew Turkish tobacco.  In the early 19-teens, a cigar factory would not have been the size of an airplane hangar. M Newlander & Company consisted of a few rooms at 49 Franklin Street near downtown Chicago.

Morris Newlander’s factory was described in a human interest news story from the Chicago Daily Tribune in August 14, 1910. The reporter wasn’t necessarily interested in the hard working cigar makers – 50 men and women worked there, some recruited from as far away as Puerto Rico and Cuba. But the reporter was interested in the pretty young woman Morris had hired to read to the workers. Ethel Vipon read in two hour segments, with twenty minute breaks, from the time she punched the time clock in the morning, until the workday was over. Mr. Newlander hired her to break the monotony for the cigar makers, and so that the workers could improve their English. A secondary gain to Morris was that production of the ten cent cigars also improved from seven cigars to eight during the same length of time – a 14% increase!

The company paid Ethel $3.50 per week, but the majority of her income came from the workers, who each contributed 25 cents. All told, she earned about $16 a week. That’s almost three times what my grandma Sophie earned sewing shirtwaist dresses in a sweat shop just 2 years later!

Daily readings included the daily newspaper (including headline stories, society news, and the sports pages); short stories by Guy de Maupassant, Lev Tolstoy, and Upton Sinclair; magazines; and history books.

Ethel Vipon reading to cigar makers, 1910 (Courtesy of Chicago Daily Tribune)

Morris got the idea of hiring the reader from having seen the same thing done in cigar factories in Cuba. Once the practice was established, none of the workers wanted it to be discontinued. According to Morris, ”At the hours when this reading is not going on there is an apparent restlessness and discontent.”

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