R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (RJR), based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and founded by R. J. Reynolds in 1874, is the second-largest tobacco company in the U.S. (behind Altria Group). RJR is an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of Reynolds American Inc. which in turn is 42% owned by British American Tobacco.
The son of a tobacco farmer in Virginia, R. J. Reynolds sold his shares of his father's company and ventured to the nearest town with a railroad connection, Winston-Salem, to start his own tobacco company. He bought his first factory building from the Moravian Church and established the "little red factory" with seasonal workers. The first year, he produced 150,000 pounds of tobacco; by the 1890s, production had increased to several million pounds a year. The company's factory buildings were the largest buildings in Winston-Salem, with new technologies such as steam power and electric lights. The second primary factory building, built in 1892, is the oldest Reynolds factory still standing and was sold to Forsyth County in 1990.
At the beginning of the 1900s, Reynolds bought most of the competing tobacco factories in Winston-Salem. The company produced 25% of America's chewing tobacco. 1907's Prince Albert chewing tobacco became the company's national showcase product, which led to high-profile advertising in New York City's Union Square. The Camel cigarette became the most popular cigarette in the country. The Reynolds company imported so much French cigarette paper and Turkish tobacco for Camel cigarettes that Winston-Salem was designated by the United States federal government as an official port of entry for the United States, despite the city being 200 miles inland. Winston-Salem was the eighth-largest port of entry in the United States by 1916.