James B. Duke

James B. Duke (1856–1925) was a tobacco manufacturer, industrialist, and philanthropist, of Durham, N.C., and New York City.

Biographical History

1856 Dec 23
James B. Duke is born near Durham, NC.
Picture of the original Duke homestead near Durham, NC.  J.B. was born here on December 23, 1856.  This photograph was taken on August 2, 1872 when J.B. would have been 15 years old.

James Buchanan (J.B.) Duke, nicknamed "Buck," is the youngest child of Washington Duke and his second wife, Artelia Roney. J.B. has two half-brothers, Sidney and Brodie; one sister Mary Elizabeth, and one brother, Benjamin.

James's mother and half-brother die of typhoid fever.
Portrait of Artelia Roney Duke; Washington Duke's second wife and mother to Mary, Ben, and J.B. Duke.

In late summer of 1858, Sidney Duke dies from typhoid fever; ten days his mother Artelia dies from the same ailment. The death of their mother would later encourage the Duke children to help financially support a local orphanage.

1865 Apr 01 – 1866 Jun 01
Washington Duke joins the Confederate Army.
Sketch of Washington Duke.

On April 4, 1864, Washington Duke signs a receipt for a private's uniform at Camp Holmes in Raleigh. In June, Washington reports for duty in Charleston, South Carolina and is soon transferred to Virginia. J.B., his brother Ben, and sister Mary are sent to live with their maternal grandparents. Brodie, a teenager, serves with Major Gee at a Confederate prison at Salisbury. NC.

1865 Apr 01
Washington Duke is captured by Union Troops.

Washington Duke is captured by Union troops in the retreat of Richmond. He spends a week imprisoned before General Robert E. Lee surrenders on April 9. After he is paroled, Washington is shipped to New Bern, North Carolina. He walks the 137 miles home to Orange County, NC with only 50 cents to his name. (Page 10, Dukes of Durham)

1865 – 1872
Nine year old "Buck" and his brother Ben help their father with a tobacco business start-up.
Washington Duke stands outside the first Tobacco Factory operated by him and his sons, Ben and J.B.

The father and sons trio begin manufacturing their own brand of smoking tobacco called "Pro Bono Publico" at their Orange County (now Durham), NC farm. In 1866, they manufacture 15,000 pounds of tobacco. The business grows quickly, and by 1872 they produce nearly 125,000 pounds of tobacco.

James Duke attends New Garden school located near Greensboro, NC.
J.B. Duke's original diploma from Eastman Business College

J.B. is sent to New Garden school, where his brother Ben has been studying for over a year. Homesick for his life on the farm, J.B. returns home before the semester ends. J.B. would later attend the Eastman Business College in Poughkeepsie, NY.

The Duke family moves to Durham.
Brodie L. Duke's home in Durham, NC.  Photo is dated 1883.

Following his son Brodie's lead, Washington Duke sells the family farm and moves to Durham, NC in hopes of expanding his tobacco business. Washington builds a new tobacco factory on Durham's Main Street. Durham is also home to Blackwell and Company, producers of the popular "Bull Durham" tobacco brand.

Washington, Ben, and James formally establish their tobacco business named W. Duke, Sons and Company.
W. Duke, Sons & Co. Letterhead, circa 1880sa

The father and sons team officially establish their business with George Washington Watts. Watts provides $14,000 in capital and receives one-fifth interest in the company. In 1880, Washington sells his fifth of the business to Richard Harvey Wright for $23,000. Not even thirty years old, J.B. becomes president of the company.

W. Duke, Sons and Company enter the cigarette business.
Original packaging for Duke brand cigarettes.

Having trouble competing with Blackwell and Company's "Bull Durham" brand, James decides that W. Duke, Sons and Company will begin to manufacture cigarettes. Each cigarette has to be hand rolled. In the first year of production, Duke makes 9,800,000 cigarettes. W. Duke, Sons, and Co's brands include"Dukes of Durham," "Pin Head," "Cross Cut," and "Cameo."

W. Duke, Sons and Company open a New York Factory.
An etching of both the Durham and New York factories appeared on the W. Duke and Sons Co. letterhead.

The cigarette business proves to be a successful venture for the company; and to keep up with the demand J.B. has an additional factory built in New York. Soon after it is built, J.B. moves his personal headquarters to New York.

James invests in the Bonsack Cigarette machine.
Photograph of the bonsack machine.

In 1884, J.B. discovers the automated Bonsack Cigarette Machine created by James Bonsack of Virginia. The machine is purported to roll as many cigarettes in one day as 48 works could hand roll. Other tobacco firms are hesitant to use the machine because it is prone to malfunction. However, in 1885, J.B. negotiates a competitive rate to get a Bonsack machine in his factory. By 1888, most of the Durham and New York factory's cigarette hand rollers were replaced with Bonsack machines.

James B. Duke forms the American Tobacco Company.
American Tobacco check dated 1902 and signed by J.B. Duke.

Five of the largest U.S. tobacco companies merge under the direction of J.B. Duke, creating the country's largest tobacco manufacturing firm named the American Tobacco Company. J.B. becomes the President of this corporation. It quickly controls the market for plug tobacco, pipe tobacco, and cigarettes. Ironically, also in 1890, Congress passes the Sherman Antitrust Act in order to prevent businesses from creating monopolies and hindering trade. This act would become significant to the American Tobacco Company in the early 1900s.

The Duke family enters the textile business, financing the Erwin Cotton Mill.
Group at barbecue in Erwin, N.C. (then known as Duke), in summer 1904. Front row, left to right: Messrs. B.N. Duke, Washington Duke, J.B. Duke, T.J. Walker, A.B. Carrington, J.S. obb, and John Angier
Back Row, let to right: Dr. A.G. Carr, Messrs. W.A. Erwin, J.Ed. Stagg, Frank Tate, C.E. in charge of construction of Erwin Mill No. 2, E.S. Yarbrough, Captain Lemon, C.E., in charge of Durham and Southern Railway Company, and F.L. Fuller.

The Duke family decides to enter the textile industry by opening their first textile plant in Durham, NC. This operation is spearheaded by Ben Duke alongside business partner William Erwin. The Dukes invest $125,000 in this new business venture and Ben Duke serves as the company's president.

Trinity College moves to Durham, NC with encouragement and financial backing from Washington Duke and sons.
Letter from Trinity President Crowell updating Washington Duke on the progress of moving Trinity to Durham.

Trinity College was a Methodist college located in Randolph County, North Carolina. Washington Duke, a devout Methodist, took interest in the college and he ultimately provided the funds needed for the college to move to the more urban and convenient locale in Durham. Julian Carr, another prominent business leader in the area, donates land in Western Durham to the college. Washington and Ben Duke took the greatest initial interest in the college, but J.B. would later become integral to the institution's long-term future.

Mary Duke Lyon dies at age 39.
A telegraph from J.B. Duke informing his father, Washington, that Mary is very sick. Mary would later succumb to her illness.

Mary Duke Lyon, Washington's only daughter and sister to J.B. and Ben, dies after a bout of declining health. She is survived by her husband, Robert E. Lyon, a leaf tobacco dealer, and five children; Mary, Benjamin, George, Bertha, and Edwin Lyon. Mary was an integral part of the Washington Duke and Sons, Co.'s success from the beginning; she made the cloth bags in which the company's first smoking tobacco was packaged.

James purchases a farm in Somerville, New Jersey.
J.B. Duke, the white pants and cap, overseeing the uprooting of a large tree on the main residence of Duke farms.  C. 1910 - 1915.  Duke Farms was one of J.B.'s favorite residences.

James purchases 327 acres of farmland in New Jersey, which serves as one of the few hobbies for the tobacco magnate. His love for horticulture led him to expand the estate to over 2,000 acres of farm and woodland. By the time of his death in 1925, James had excavated 9 lakes, constructed more than 40 buildings, and built more than 18 miles of roadway on the property. (according to Duke Farms website)

Formation of the Continental Tobacco Company

In order to take control of the plug tobacco market share dubbed the "plug war" of the 1890s, J.B. oversees the merger of several plug tobacco firms including the Lorillard Company. The American Tobacco Company owns stock in this corporation. J.B. is elected Continental's President. Rival companies form their own conglomerate, the Union Tobacco Company, backed by powerful financiers, to compete with Continental Tobacco. Union purchases Blackwell's Durham Bull Tobacco Company. However, in 1899, the American Tobacco Company acquires Union Tobacco and many of Union Tobacco's financiers join the Board of Directors for the American Tobacco Company and the Continental Tobacco Company. When asked about this acquisition in a later legal disposition, James would testify that it was "largely a trade to get people, financiers and moneyed people into our concern."

The American Tobacco Company and Continental Tobacco Company consolidate.
Official documentation from the Secretary of State of New Jersey certifying the merger between the American Tobacco Company and Continental Tobacco Company.

Investors were confused by the relationship between the American Tobacco Company, Continental Tobacco Company, and other Duke-led tobacco Companies. In 1904, these three separate parts became one consolidated Tobacco Corporation under the American Tobacco Company name. However, this new arrangement would raise eyebrows in the Federal Government, especially with the recent U.S. Department of Justice's dismantling of the railroad industry's Northern Securities Corporation.

James Duke helps finance the Catawba Power Company.

During the first several years of the 20th century, J.B. Duke gains land and water rights along the Catawba River. Ben and J.B.'s doctor, Dr. W. Gill Wylie encourages J.B. to invest in hydroelectric power. By 1904, the Duke brothers' help finance Dr. Wylie's company, the Catawba Power Company. J.B. wants to use hydro power to promote industrialization in the Carolinas, especially providing electricity to textile mills.

1904 Nov 29
James marries Lillian McCredy in Camden, New Jersey.

James marries divorcee Lillian McCredy in Camden, New Jersey. The couple met in New York City in 1893. There is speculation that James does not want to marry Lillian, but is encouraged to do so by his religious father. The couple goes on a honeymoon to Europe but return early due to Washington Duke's failing health.

1905 May 08
Washington Duke dies at age 84.
A page from a scrapbook with cut-out articles from over the United States reporting on Washington's death.  This article is from the Raleigh Observer.

In late January 1905, Washington Duke falls and breaks his hip. The elder Duke's health continues to deteriorate during the winter and into the spring; and on May 8 he dies. Several months before his death, Washington told Trinity College president, John C. Kilgo that "the only thing that makes me hate to die is I do not want to the leave the boys." (DOD, 162; Mason Crum papers)

1905 Jun 22
The Southern Power Company is incorporated in New Jersey.
J.B. Duke celebrating the commencement of the Southern Power's Company Great Falls hydroplant.

James and Ben Duke, along with Dr. W. Gill Wylie and engineer William S. Lee, move forward with their investment in hydroelectric power by establishing the Southern Power Company, the precursor to Duke Power. By August 1905, construction of a power plant begins at the Great Falls located on the Catawba River in South Carolina. Proving once again to have a brilliant business mind, James moves forward decisively in the power business. As Lee noted, "Generally, he had gone into the matter thoroughly, had the points fixed in his mind and was sure of his ground. He merely thought faster, more accurately, and grasped the points of a situation more quickly than most men. And, once he had decided, he acted promptly." (page 183, Dukes of Durham).

1913 May 06
James is granted a divorce from Lillian McCredy.
The decree granting J.B. a divorce from Lillian McCredy.

James files for divorce from Lillian in September, 1905. The couple began to fight shortly after returning from their honeymoon. James hires private detectives to follow his wife after suspecting that she is engaging in an affair. Evidence suggests that Lillian is indeed having an affair with Frank T. Huntoon. The divorce proceedings prove to be contentious and the media reports heavily on the trial. The court grants James the divorce; and since over the course of their partnership, he has given Lillian over $250,000 in securities and property, he is not required to provide Lillian with any additional financial support. (DOD 165)

1905 – 1907
James promotes the use of hydroelectric power in the textile industry.

Textile firms throughout the Carolinas are wary of using electric power. To help promote energy's industrial expansion, James invests in many textile mills in areas around Charlotte, NC and Greenville, SC.

American Tobacco Company owns majority of tobacco market share.
Duke cigarettes advertisement. Date unknown

By 1906, Duke-led companies, under the umbrella of the American Tobacco Company, control about four-fifths of the all tobacco product market shares, except for cigars.

1907 Jul 19
The U.S. Department of Justice files suit against the American Tobacco Company for violating the Sherman Antitrust Laws.
Ben Duke's official subpoena to testify in front of Circuit Court for the Southern District of New York to testify about charges against the American Tobacco Company for violating the Sherman Antitrust laws.

The U.S. Department of Justice files suit against the American Tobacco Company in the Circuit Court for the Southern District of New York for violation of the Sherman Antitrust Laws. Since the election of Theodore Roosevelt, the Department of Justice was more vigilant about prosecuting corporations under the Antitrust laws passed in 1890. The Tobacco conglomerate is accused of prohibiting trade through monopolizing the market. In a 3-to-1 decision, the court finds all but three companies associated with American Tobacco Company guilty. The three companies exempt from the ruling are the United Cigar Stores, the Imperial Tobacco Company, and the British-American Tobacco Company. The Circuit Court prohibits the remaining companies from participating in interstate trade until conditions of legality under the Sherman laws are restored. Both the Federal Government and the American Tobacco Company appeal the decision.

1907 Jul 23
James marries widower Nanaline Holt Inman. (NYT Wedding Announcement)
Portrait of Nanaline Holt Duke.

In July 1907, J.B. exchanges vows for a second time with Nanaline Holt Inman at a quiet ceremony in Brooklyn, New York. The couple was introduced through James's brother, Ben. Nanaline is the widow of a wealthy Atlanta-based cotton merchant, William Inman. J.B. becomes stepfather to Nanaline's twelve-year old son, Walter. The couple honeymoons at James's farm in New Jersey, but settles in their New York City 5th Avenue home.

1913 May 11
The Supreme Court rules against the American Tobacco Company.
New York Tribune reports on American Tobacco Compnay being found quilty of violating Sherman Antitrust laws

The Supreme Court rules that all companies under the American Tobacco Company umbrella, including those previously exempt by the Circuit Court, are in violation of the Sherman Antitrust laws. The court forces the dissolution of the company.

1911 Nov 16
The Courts approve a dissolution plan for the American Tobacco Company.

J.B. Duke and his lawyers work feverishly to dissolve the American Tobacco Company with direction by Attorney General, George W. Wickersham. The courts formally approve J.B.'s plan on November 16, 1911. Ultimately, the American Tobacco Company is divided into three main corporations: The American Tobacco Company; a reorganized Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company; and a reorganized P. Lorillard Company. After the dissolution, J.B. turns his focus to his investments in electric power companies. The only connection J.B. keeps with the tobacco industry is as a chairman for the British-American Tobacco Company.

J.B. Duke power business expands to Canada.
J.B. invests in hydoelectric power in Canada

While returning from a trip to the Pacific Northwest, J.B. is persuaded to stop by a tributary on the Saguenay River about 100 miles from Quebec City. J.B. quickly begins a land grab in the area to expand his hydroelectric power business in the region. By 1922, he partners with Canadian newspaper industrialist Sir William Price, who agrees to use electricity produced by Duke's hydro stations in his newspaper plants. Over the next decade; J.B. would continue to invest in building hydroelectric plants in the area.

1912 Nov 22
J.B.'s only child, Doris, is born.
J.B. and his only child, Doris.

At age fifty-seven, James becomes a father. Nanaline gives birth to the couple's only child, Doris, on November 22, 1912 in New York City. Like her father, Doris grows up to love the family farm in Somerville, NJ. (Point to Doris Duke EAC)

Southern Power Company expands to offer its service to residential customers.

When J.B. first invests in the Southern Power Company, he is primarily focused on selling his product to industrial entities. However, many manufacturers request that the Southern Power Company provide service to workers who live near their factories. To respond to the growing demand for residential service, the Southern Power Company creates a new division called the Southern Public Utilities Company. By the 1920s, many homes in the Carolinas are supplied electricity by the Southern Power Company. In 1924, the Southern Power Company is renamed Duke Power.

J.B. purchases a home in Charlotte, NC
A sketch of the reading of the Duke Indenture at J.B.'s Charlotte, N.C. home. A conjecture: the reading of the Duke Indenture by

By the late 1910s, most of J.B.'s business takes place in the Piedmont region of North and South Carolina. In 1919, J.B. purchases a home in Charlotte, NC near other executives of his power company. The Duke family occasionally attends church service at the local Methodist church. However, Mrs. J.B. Duke prefers life in New York City so the family split their time between Charlotte and their New York home. The signing of the Duke indenture takes place at J.B.'s Charlotte home.

1924 Dec 11
J.B. Duke signs the Indenture of Trust, establishing the Duke Endowment.
The first and last pages of the Duke Indenture, which established the Duke Endowment.

J.B. Duke establishes the Duke Endowment fund with an initial gift of $40 million. The Duke family was always active in providing monetary support for philanthropic goals, especially under the leadership of Washington and Ben Duke. In 1924, J.B., the wealthiest of the Duke family members, creates the Duke Endowment and he gives a significant portion of his wealth to the trust fund. The annual income of the fund is to be donated primarily to hospitals, orphanages, the Methodist Church, and several colleges located in North and South Carolina. J.B. Duke gives $19 million of the fund to Trinity College, to build a new campus and update the older campus.

Trinity College becomes Duke University.
Postcard of the main entrance to Duke University in 1928.

After the large contribution by J.B. Duke, President William P. Few convinces J.B. to allow Trinity University to be renamed Duke University. J.B. agrees under the condition that it is done so in memorial to his father, Washington and the Duke Family.

1925 Oct 10
James B. Duke dies.
Residence line the street in Durham to pay respect to J.B.

James B. Duke dies after a short illness in New York City. Doctors later determined he died of pernicious anemia. He was 68 years old.

1925 Oct 13
James B. Duke is laid to rest in Durham, NC.
The Duke Family mausoleum after J.B. Duke's funeral.

After a private service in New York, J.B.'s body is taken to Durham, NC by train. Another funeral is held at the Duke Memorial Methodist Church and he is buried beside his father in the family mausoleum. Washington, Ben, and J.B. would all later be interred at Duke Chapel located on the Duke University Campus.

Duke leaves a legacy.
Doris Duke laying the cornerstone honoring her father, J.B. at Duke Chapel. Cornerstone Ceremony, June 5, 1928.  Pictured left to right: Arthur C. Lee (chief engineer); Doris Duke; George G. Alenn (chairman of the Duke Endowment).

In his will, J.B. left an additional $67 million to the Duke Endowment. His contribution to the Endowment has had a significant impact to his birth state, North Carolina. Additionally, Doris Duke was left nearly $100 million, leading the press to often deem her the "richest girl in the world."