Lancaster Leaf Tobacco Co. Inc. was founded by Harry Hitchcock in 1941. With headquarters in a brick warehouse complex on Liberty Street, Lancaster Leaf has quietly grown into the largest cigar and chewing trading company in the world. Virtually every U.S. cigar manufacturer, as well as chewing tobacco maker, buys from Lancaster Leaf. The tobacco it sells comes from Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa, South and Central America and the domestic farms of central Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia and Connecticut.

Lancaster Leaf Tobacco Co. is the acknowledged leader of the cigar tobacco trading industry. Lancaster Leaf was the first tobacco supplier to trade in dark air cured tobacco and, until the mid 1960’s, the only one. Hitchcock, at the time an executive for the W. H. Winstead Co., centered his cigar leaf business in south central Pennsylvania because of its proximity to sellers and buyers.

The company he built was essentially a service industry for cigar manufacturers, a means for them to bypass time-consuming tobacco auctions and individual crop purchases from farmers. Lancaster Leaf has never made any consumer products, it has simply sourced tobacco leaf, processed it, and delivered it to the manufacturers. Initially, Mr. Hitchcock ran the operation as a division of the Winstead Co., a subsidiary of Universal Leaf Tobacco Co., Inc., which provided financial backing. In 1941, Lancaster Leaf was created as an independent subsidiary, with Mr. Hitchcock as president and chief executive officer.

The first crop was purchased in Pennsylvania in 1927. By the mid 1930’s, employing 500 to 600 people at the height of the harvest season, the firm was already established as the world’s dominant cigar leaf operation in the U.S. Over the following three decades, the company formed the following operations: Viroqua Leaf Tobacco Co., with offices in Viroqua and Stoughton, Wisconsin; Lancaster Philippines, a Philippine subsidiary; a buying-packing operation in Connecticut; and Lancotab, an Antwerp, Belgian subsidiary.

Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, Lancaster Leaf was clearly the world’s largest trader in dark leaf tobacco. Today, Lancaster Leaf Tobacco is still a leader in procurement and processing dark air cured tobacco to meet industry demand and employs some 165 people in its state of the art processing factory, storage facilities, and administration office. Lancaster Leaf’s collaboration with Universal Corporation’s dark air cured tobacco operations give Lancaster Leaf a strategic advantage in the sourcing of worldwide dark air cured tobaccos.