The following is a brief outline of the history of Universal Tobacco Company and its affiliates. For a more in-depth history of Universal Leaf Tobacco read Tobacco Merchant: The Story of Universal Leaf Tobacco Company by Maurice Duke and Daniel P. Jordan (The University Press of Kentucky: 1995).
On 25 January 1918 the Virginia State Corporation Commission issued a charter of incorporation to the Universal Leaf Tobacco Company, Inc. The company was organized to select, buy, ship, process, pack, store, and finance leaf tobacco in tobacco growing countries for sale to manufacturers of tobacco products throughout the world. The major figure behind the founding of the organization was Jaquelin P. (J. P.) Taylor of Orange County, Virginia.
J. P. Taylor was born 2 March 1861 at Meadow Farm, Orange County, Virginia, the sixth child of Erasmus and Roberta Stuart Taylor. He moved to Richmond, Virginia, in 1878 and worked for Alexander Cameron and Company, tobacconists. Taylor moved to Henderson, North Carolina, and in 1886 established J.P. Taylor & Company, a leaf shipping and exporting business. The J.P. Taylor Company was incorporated in North Carolina in 1904. In 1912 Taylor moved back to Richmond and the J.P. Taylor Company of Virginia was incorporated in 1916. In addition to its headquarters in Richmond, there were branches of J.P. Taylor Company in Carrollton, Lexington, Maysville, Mount Sterling, and Shelbyville, Kentucky; Farmville, Goldsboro, Henderson, Rocky Mount, and Tarboro, North Carolina; and Clarksville and Richmond, Virginia. Business was also conducted through agents elsewhere in the United States and abroad and through companies into which Taylor had bought or with which he worked on the basis of joint accounts.
In 1918 J. P. Taylor, led the consolidation of six prominent leaf merchants to form Universal Leaf Tobacco Company, Inc. The six merchants involved in the consolidation were the C.B. Cheatham Company of Farmville, North Carolina; the Gorman Tobacco Company of Hopkinsville, Kentucky; the J.P. Taylor Company of Richmond, Virginia; the Oscar C. Gregory Tobacco Company of Richmond, Virginia; the W.A. Willingham Company of Danville, Virginia; and the W.H. Winstead Company of Baltimore, Goldsboro, North Carolina and Owensboro, Kentucky. J. P. Taylor became chairman, Thomas B. Yuille president, William A. Willingham became vice president and secretary, James A. Miller was vice president and treasurer, and Patrick H. Gorman was vice president.
Universal would largely be a holding company. It would "hold" varying amounts of stock in a variety of both subsidiary and partner companies, owning 100 percent of some and offering leadership to all. Universal initially had two administrative headquarters- one in New York City which was responsible for sales and corporate administration, and another in Richmond, which supervised leaf purchasing and processing. Universal ventured into the tobacco business in China, establishing Universal Leaf Tobacco Company of China in 1935. The company also expanded into Canada, establishing the Canadian Leaf Tobacco Company in 1925 and into Africa and Greece.
In 1923 Thomas B. Yuille resigned as president and was replaced by Frederick N. Harrison, who served as president, 1924-1946, and chairman, 1946-1950. In 1946 Herbert W. Jackson Jr. assumed the presidency of Universal Leaf and served until 1966. Expansion throughout the world characterized Universal's post-war operations from 1946 to 1966. Under the leadership of Gordon L. Crenshaw, who succeeded Jackson as President in 1966, Universal became a worldwide organization. Universal expanded into South America, the Far and Southeast Asia. By the end of the 1960s, Universal was operating in 15 countries outside of the United States.
Until the late 1960's, Universal dealt exclusively in leaf tobacco. When Crenshaw became President in 1966, he made diversification a priority. In 1964 the United Sates surgeon general published a report on the adverse effects of using tobacco products. Tobacco companies such as Universal needed to diversify their business and develop other companies. Universal diversified slowly at first, investing in machine manufacturing companies, modular home building, synthetic fibers, high-pressure laminates, peanut companies, fertilizer materials, and insurance companies.
In 1984 Universal acquired Lawyers Title Insurance Corporation and in 1986 Universal acquired NV Deli-Maatschappij. The acquisition of Deli gave Universal presence in the flue-cured and burley markets of Brazil, Italy, and Greece. Deli also dealt in coffee, tea, rubber, vegetable oil, sunflower seeds, and timber. These businesses obtained in the Deli acquisition formed the backbone of Universal's agri-products and lumber distribution segments.
Thomas R. Towers served as president from 1982-1986 and Gordon L. Crenshaw served as chairman of the board 1975-1991. In 1986 Henry H. Harrell became president and chief executive officer, serving until 1991. A separate holding company was created in 1987, Universal Corporation, to delineate between the different businesses in which Universal was involved. Although tobacco remains the primary concern, the company also maintains its diverse interests in the agri products and lumber business. The Company's agri-products business involved buying, processing, storing, shipping, and distributing, as well as importing and exporting a number of products, including tea, rubber, sunflower seeds, nuts, dried fruit, and canned and frozen foods. The Company is also engaged in the lumber and building products distribution and processing business in the Netherlands and other countries in Europe. The majority of lumber products are purchased outside the Netherlands, principally in the Far East, Central Europe, North America, Russia, Scandinavia, and South America. Henry H. Harrell served as chairman from 1991 to 2003. Allen B. King was appointed president in 1991 and in 2003 succeeded as chief executive officer.
Associated companies and subsidiaries
Aragon Coffee Company was incorporated in Richmond, Virginia, in 1914.
Aragon Peanut Mills Company was incorporated in Richmond, Virginia, on 4 September 1913. The company was created to sell, export and import, and deal with candy, syrup, sugar, nuts, peanut candy, and peanut butter, etc. The president was John W. Harrison. It was possibly disbanded in 1916.
Atlantic Leaf Tobacco Company was incorporated in 1918 in New York, New York, and was dissolved and sold to Universal Leaf Tobacco Co. in 1920.
Burlington Credit Company was incorporated in Virginia in 1930 and was dissolved in 1949.
C.B. Cheatham Company was incorporated in Louisburg, North Carolina in 1911. The company sold to J.P. Taylor Company in 1921.
Charles T.W. Argue Company was located in Henderson, Kentucky and was incorporated in 1918.
Citizens Loan Society was located in Charlotte and Durham, North Carolina.
C.R. Dodson Company was incorporated in Kinston, NC in 1909. The company sold to J.P. Taylor Company in 1921.
Farmville Leaf Tobacco Company was located in Farmville, North Carolina, and was incorporated in 1940.
Gensior Tobacco Company was located in New York, New York, and was incorporated in 1917. It was dissolved and sold to Universal Leaf Tobacco Co. in 1922.
Gorman Tobacco Company was located in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.
Guarantee Small Loan Corporation was incorporated in Richmond, Virginia, in 1924.
Jefferson Peanut Company was located in Richmond, Virginia, and in 1921 changed its name to the Jefferson Company. It was created to buy and sell peanuts, peanut butter, and peanut candy.
John B. Harvie and Company was incorporated in Roxboro, North Carolina in 1909, and sold to J.P. Taylor in 1921.
Kinston Tobacco Company was located in Kinston, North Carolina, and was incorporated in 1949.
L.B. Jenkins Tobacco Co. was incorporated in 1930 in Richmond, Virginia. It was dissolved and sold to Universal Leaf in 1949.
Lancaster Leaf Tobacco Co. of Richmond, Virginia, was incorporated in 1945 to handle business conducted by the W.H. Winsted Company Inc. of Pennsylvania but due to war times made it necessary to have a separate corporation. By June 1946 it was no longer necessary to have a separate corporation so Lancaster Leaf was liquidated and the dividend returned to W.H. Winsted Company Inc. of Pennsylvania.
Limestone Warehouse Company was located in Maysville, Kentucky and was dissolved in 1919.
John Middleton, Inc. was located in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
Personal Small Loan Company was incorporated in Richmond, Virginia, in 1924.
Person Garrett Company was located in Greenville, NC, and was incorporated in 1915. The owners were T.A. Person and R.M. Garrett. The company was sold to R.P. Watson Company in July 1922.
P.H. Gorman company was originally chartered as Republic Tobacco Company, Incorporated. The Republic Tobacco Company was incorporated in Richmond Virginia in 1916 October 9. On October 30, 1916 the name was changed to P.H. Gorman Company Incorporated. The company was dissolved and sold to Universal leaf in 1922.
Union Storage and Redrying Co. was incorporated in Lexington, Kentucky in 1913 and sold to J.P. Taylor in 1917.
USCO (Universal's Unitized Systems Company). In 1969 Universal acquired 100 percent of the assets of Magnolia Manufacturing Corporation, a South Hill, Virginia, business that specialized in modular home construction. From this acquisition was formed USCO, a subsidiary that would manufacture mobile homes and sections for single-family homes. USCO was soon in production in three different plants. In 1977 Universal sold the company due to a national recession in the home building industry.
Universal-Wilton. In 1970 Universal joined with one of Richmond's best known real estate developers, E. Carlton Wilton, Inc., and formed Universal-Wilton, whose immediate goal was to construct a planned community in Richmond's West End. The intention of the new company was to build more than eight thousand housing units and additional facilities on twenty-three hundred acres of land at a site called Tuckahoe Village. Prior to the announcement Universal had formed Universal Land Use Corporation, a subsidiary that began developing a low cost housing project on two hundred acres of land near Suffolk, Virginia, and a mobile home park in Currituck, NC. The real estate venture was successful, but by 1987 the project was complete and the relationship was terminated.
Virginia Tobacco Company was previously the J. M. Edmunds Company of Danville, Virginia.
W.A. Willingham and Company was incorporated Richmond August 1916 and sold to J.P. Taylor in May 1922.
W.H. Winstead was incorporated in Goldsboro, NC in 1914 and sold to J.P. Taylor in 1918.
Gordon Crenshaw served as president from 1966-1982 and as chairman of the board from 1975-1991.
Patrick Henry Gorman was born in 1873 in Raleigh, North Carolina. He headed the P.H. Gorman Company, a high volume dealership and was named president of the Greenville Tobacco Board of Trade. By 1912 he had become a director of American and vice president of the American Cigar Company. In 1916 he reorganized the Patrick H. Gorman Company as a worldwide commission buyer of tobacco with branches in all major American belts and headquarters in Durham, North Carolina. He joined with Universal Leaf and served as vice president in 1918. He died in 1946.
Oscar C. Gregory was born in 1875 in North Carolina. He served as director in 1918 and vice president in 1923 of Universal Leaf Tobacco. He died in 1930.
Frederick N. Harrison served as president from 1924 to 1946 and as chairman of the board 1946 to 1960.
James P. Harrison served as chairman of the board of Universal Leaf Tobacco Company from 1950 to 1965 and 1966 to 1968. He died in 1968.
Henry H. Harrell served as president and chief executive officer from 1986-1991 and chairman from 1991-2003.
Herbert W. Jackson Jr. served as president from 1946 to 1966 of Universal Leaf Tobacco Company. He died in 1966.
Allen B. King was appointed president in 1991 and chief executive officer in 2003.
James I. Miller was born in 1877 and served as resident manager of J.P. Taylor's Henderson operation. In 1920 he replaced Taylor as president and resigned from the company in 1924. Miller lived in the former mansion of Major Lewis Ginter in Richmond and died in 1964.
Thomas R. Towers served as president from 1982-1986.
Rommie Purefoy Watson was born in 1867 in Warren, North Carolina and went to work for the J. P. Taylor Company in 1888. In 1895 he established R.P. Watson and Company in Wilson, North Carolina. In 1921 he served as director for Universal and died in 1932.
William A. Willingham was born in 1872 in South Boston, Virginia. He formed W.A. Willingham in Danville, Virginia. He then combined his company with Universal and served as vice president and president in 1923. He died in 1945.
Thomas B. Yuille was born in Danville, Virginia, in 1869. He worked for the American Tobacco Company, heading the leaf purchasing division, and resided in New York. In 1916 he left American Tobacco to become vice president and director of J.P. Taylor Company. He resigned from the company in 1933 and died in 1934.