Durham lit up by Buck Duke’s ‘mysterious energy’

100 years ago today: James B. Duke’s Southern Power Co., forerunner of Duke Power Co., brings electricity to Durham.

Among the bedazzled is a reporter for the Durham Recorder: “From the water driven generators on the Rocky Creek below Great Falls, S.C., the mysterious energy flashed over the lines or tower to tower, over hill and valley, through the fields of ripening corn and the forest in which the leaves are turning red and gold into the sub-station located on the hill just beyond the Pearl Cotton Mill.”

The 175 miles from Rocky Creek to Durham is touted as the longest distance over which electric power has ever been transmitted.

Should Cooperstown find spot for Buck Duke?

“At the same time [James B.] Duke was working to have the Bonsack [cigarette-making] machine perfected, he was installing a print shop in his Durham factory that could employ color lithography….

“Cards freely distributed with each pack of Cameo, Crosscut or Duke’s Best varied from the educational (flags and stamps of foreign countries) to the exotic (actresses wearing the costumes of foreign countries). Sets of ‘actresses,’ usually not fully clothed, were especially popular…. although Washington Duke objected to such ‘lascivious’ pictures….

“According to the New York Times, tobacco dealers like Duke used premiums to ‘entice boys to excessive cigarette smoking… Many a boy under 12 is striving for the entire collection, which necessitates the consumption of nearly 12,000 cigarettes. He will become demoralized and possibly dishonest to accomplish his purpose.’

“This commodity-connected collecting was a lasting innovation that continues today with baseball cards….”

— From “The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall and Deadly Persistence of the Product the Defined America” (2007) by Allan M. Brandt

Sometimes a cigar isn’t just a cigar

“[James B.] Duke’s only failure came when he attempted to integrate the cigar industry into his increasingly extensive fold. Cigars, he found, fit poorly with his system of mechanization, standardization and national marketing…. Production of cigars would remain labor intensive, skilled work; they continued to be distributed in small quantities to specialized dealers….

“The cigar represented the past, the cigarette the future. [But] for Duke, who had transformed his father’s plug business into a multinational giant, it was all just tobacco. His aggressive moves to incorporate the full range of tobacco products would ultimately bring him into conflict with the federal government.”

From “The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall and Deadly Persistence of the Product that Defined America”  (2007) by Allan M. Brandt

Duke’s prospectus: MDs first, then poets

“A distinguished company of U. S. educators traveled last week to a long clearing in a fragrant pine forest in North Carolina. There stood the most prodigious new educational project in the land this century — Duke University, now nearly complete though little grass yet grows on its sandy campus, no ivy on its neo-Gothic walls of soft-colored fieldstone.

“The central ceremony was the dedication of Duke’s medical school and hospital, which seem bound to reach maturity and fame before the institution’s other branches. Money can get results faster in medicine than in the less scientific fields of culture. The $40,000,000 which the late tobacco and power Tycoon James Buchanan Duke gave to little Trinity College of Durham in return for taking his name will doubtless turn out many an able doctor before it polishes an important poet, will probably improve physically thousands of lives before it contributes much original thought on the way of life….

“Duke students are not yet distinguishable from their contemporaries at other inland institutions. They paint DUKE on their slickers, have ‘dates’ with the coeds, occasionally buy a fruit jar of corn liquor.”

–From Time magazine, April 27, 1931