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Two signs, the first reading William B. Beach and a later? fragment for Maclin-Zimmer-McGill Tobacco Company.

In spite of appearances, these signs may not be very old. Petersburg city directories list Wm. B Beach & Co. at 1315 Commerce St. from 1942 through 1960. 1960 is the last Petersburg city directory available on Beach may have been located here after that date. During those same approximately twenty years the Maclin-Zimmer-McGill Tobacco Co. was located at 27-41 W. Old St. on the corner of N. Market St.

There was a close connection between these two companies, and their origins are found in 19th century Petersburg closely following the Civil War.

William Branch Beach (1869-1941) was the founder of Wm. B. Beach & Co. The company first appears in Petersburg city directories in 1911, but Beach himself is listed in the 1901-02 directory as a tobacconist living at 114 W. Franklin St. In 1905-06 he was employed at John H. Maclin & Son, tobacco manufacturers, located at 202 E. Washington St. In 1907-08 he was vice-president at John H. Maclin & Son, and his wife was Nancy Jeannette Maclin (1869-1961), daughter of John Henry Maclin (1838-1923). They married in 1901.

In 1905 the firm John H. Maclin & Son was incorporated as reported in The Tobacco Leaf, Vol XLII, No 2104, 5 July 1905, pg. 44, "New Incorporations: John H. Maclin & Son, Incorporated in Petersburg, Va. Capital $54,000 to $100,000. To deal in tobacco. President John H. Maclin; vice-president Wm. B. Beach; secretary and treasurer Thomas B. Maclin. Incorporated in Virginia."

The Historical and Industrial Guide to Petersburg, Virginia, edited by Edward Pollock, 1884, says that John H. Maclin came to Petersburg in 1868: "John H. Maclin: This gentleman, who has been engaged in the manufacture of plug and twist tobacco in Petersburg since the year 1868, is the successor of the firm of Maclin & Wallace, of which he was also the head. He occupies and operates the fine three story brick factory situated on the corner of Washington and Jefferson Streets. The dimensions of the main building are 120x40 feet, and the capacity of the factory is four thousand pounds a day. Mr. Maclin turns out all styles of plug and twist tobacco and ships them to the uttermost parts of the earth. Mr. Maclin employs about a hundred hands, and has recently reinforced his machinery, etc., to which he contemplates making further additions very shortly. All his shipments to the foreign markets are made through Messrs. Joseph D. Evans & Co., of New York, who are sole agents for all his brands. In addition to his plug and twist factory, Mr. Maclin is largely engaged in the purchase and re-prizing of leaf tobacco, and this department of his business is conducted in a large frame structure, 80x44 feet, on Jefferson Street, adjoining the main building. This is devoted exclusively to the finest grades of leaf tobacco for the Austrian market, and is nearly all sold to the Agent for that Government. ..."

John H. Maclin appears, age 31, tobacco manufacturer, in the 1870 U. S. Census living in Petersburg.

The son in John H. Maclin & Son was John Maclin's son, Thomas Byrd Maclin (1868-1933). He was listed in the 1897 Petersburg city directory as a member of the company. Thomas B. Maclin was the president of Maclin-Zimmer-McGill when it was formed in 1911.

The origins of Maclin-Zimmer-McGill go back to the 1880s with the firm of William L. Zimmer & Co. In 1882 this company were booksellers, stationers and printers located at 107 N. Sycamore St., then became Barkley & Zimmer (William D. Barkley and William L. Zimmer), tobacco manufacturers in 1886. The Zimmer in this company was William Louis Zimmer (1852-1924), and the company became Zimmer & Co. by 1888. William L. Zimmer appears in the 1900 U. S. Census, age 47, born July 1852, tobacco merchant, living at 322 Washington St., Petersburg. His step son, William Louis Zimmer, Jr. (1879-1965) was 20 years old at the time and identified as "clerk in tobacco factory." William L. Zimmer Jr. joined the firm by 1903.

The elder William L. Zimmer appears in the biographical Men of Mark in Virginia; Ideals of American Life, Louis G. Tyler, editor-in-chief, Washington DC, 1906. This includes "Zimmer, William Louis, was born July 17, 1852, in Atlanta, Georgia, and is the son of William I. Zimmer and Julie Ellis Nimmo. His grandfather, Louis Zimmer, emigrated from Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1806, and located at Alexandria, Virginia, living with Mr. Cazenove, who had previously emigrated from Switzerland. ... In 1885 he established the firm of Zimmer and Company, for the purpose of manufacturing and exporting tobacco. In 1903, the firm was incorporated under the laws of Virginia, with Mr. Zimmer as its president. This firm, of which Mr. Zimmer is the moving spirit, is one of the most important and successful in this city. ..." He is also included in Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, edited by Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Vol III, New York, 1915. This gives "Zimmer, William Louis, born July 7, 1852, in Atlanta, Georgia, son of Rev. William I. Zimmer, of Swiss ancestry, and Julia Ellis Nimmo, his wife. ... His son, William Louis Zimmer, entered the University School of Richmond and Episcopal High School near Alexandria, then took a course in engineering, but at the age of eighteen years took a bank clerkship in Petersburg, Virginia. He became assistant cashier, held that position for several years, then resigned to engage in business as senior member of Zimmer & Company, which firm he organized in 1885 for the manufacture and exportation of tobacco..."

In 1911 Zimmer & Co. became Maclin-Zimmer Tobacco Inc. with Thomas B. Maclin president and William L. Zimmer Jr. secretary-treasurer. Then in 1917 this company became Maclin-Zimmer-McGill when William Lassiter McGill (1869-1942) joined as vice-president.

William L. McGill was the son of John McGill (1831-1918), who was the McGill in Watson & McGill, a predecessor to Maclin-Zimmer-McGill.

This poster for Maclin-Zimmer Tobacco Co. shows an Indian maid with bow and arrow.

This ad for Maclin-Zimmer-McGill appeared in the trade journal Tobacco, 25 March 1920. It claims the company was founded in 1818 and incorporated 1914. Working backwards, this says, "Successors to Maclin-Zimmer Tobacco Co., Inc., John H. Maclin & Son, Inc., Est. 1854, Zimmer & Co., Inc., Est. 1856, Watson & McGill, Est. 1818." Present day brands (all for export) include Cornucopia, Sailor's Hope, Over the Water, and Hard-a-Port.

El Gallo was another Maclin-Zimmer-McGill brand.

An article in the Petersburg Progress-Index, 2 March 1958, described the origins of Maclin-Zimmer-McGill, as well as much else, "As early as1800 Petersburg had become an important center of this industry, yet of all that galaxy of tobacconists whose names stand out - the Camerons, Watsons and Dunlops - there remains only the establishment of the Maclin-Zimmer-McGill Company. It was in 1818 that Robert Leslie, a Scot, founded the firm, which in the 140 years of its existence has sent the name of Petersburg to far corners of the world. An old account reads: 'Robert Leslie, the young Scot whose hands builded better than he knew, located his plant on Washington St. at the site now occupied by the Greyhound Bus Station near Market. Petersburg was then a village sprawled along the banks of the Appomattox, but the town was slowly climbing up the hill. Washington St. was little more than a country road over which the planters rolled their hogsheads of tobacco in the leaf, propelled by an ox or mule in shafts attached directly to the container, to the warehouses where commission men sold it to manufacturers. There were no tobacco auctions or auctioneers as we know them today.' A portrait in the possession of Henry P. McGill, president of the company and great, great nephew of the founder, shows Robert Leslie, bald on top of his head but with magnificent sideburns reaching all the way to a high still gates-ajar collar. Leslie, who was born in Ayr, Scotland, January 7, 1794, died in Petersburg October 22, 1878. His nephews, Robert L. Watson and John McGill inherited the business calling it Watson and McGill. For a period of 96 years, Leslie and his successors, Watson and McGill, continued operations of the factory at the Washington St. location. In 1914 the firm consolidated with Maclin-Zimmer Tobacco Company (which had been organized in 1910 and was itself a consolidation of John H. Maclin and Son and Zimmer and Company) under the present name. Expanding business and increasing foreign demand for the firm's output required the newly organized company to seek larger quarters, so that same year it transferred its machinery and offices to the old Zimmer and Co., Inc., building at the corner of Market and Tabb Sts. Here it remained until 1929 when growing demand again compelled a change of location. The four-story and basement brick building, erected almost 70 years ago by the late David Dunlop, a leading pioneer tobacconist, then became the home of the Maclin-Zimmer-McGill Tobacco Company where it is still located. It overlooks Peter Jones Trading Station from which it is separated by a cobblestone alley. ... This reporter was passed along to the great great nephew of Robert Leslie, Henry P. McGill, for a tour through the factory. ... Officers of the company, besides Chairman of the Board Zimmer, and President McGill, both descendants of pioneers in this industry are: William H. Beach, vice president; and Herbert F. Bishop Jr., secretary-treasurer. ..."

Robert Leslie (1794-1878) is buried in Blandford Cemetery, Petersburg, Virginia. His very modern grave stone reads, "Robert Leslie / born in Ayr, Scotland / 7 Jan 1794 / died in Petersburg, Va. / 22 Oct. 1878."

An article about Maclin-Zimmer-McGill in the journal Tobacco, Vol. LXIX, No. 1, 6 Nov. 1919, gives the following, "In fact, one notably big tobacco manufacturing company in Petersburg, the Maclin-Zimmer-McGill Tobacco Co., can date its beginning back to 1818. In Petersburg, 102 years ago, Robert Leslie established a business destined to live, thrive and grow greater. Though tobacco manufacturing a hundred years ago was less elaborate, not so scientific, tobacco that Robert Leslie made and exported in a small way at first obtained enduring favor 'on the other side of the world.' A trade begun then with New Zealand and Australia continued. On the foundation laid by Robert Leslie has been erected a tobacco manufacturing concern having assured and increasing business beyond the ken of the ordinary exporter. The Watson & McGill Co. was formed in 1854, the co-partners being Robert Leslie, Robert L. Watson and John McGill, the founder of the business and his two nephews. Robert L. Watson died in 1905, the members of the firm then were John McGill and his son, William. The Maclin-Zimmer-McGill Tobacco Co. came into being some years ago, when four important tobacco enterprises in Petersburg were merged - namely, the Maclin-Zimmer Tobacco Co., John H. Maclin & Sons, Zimmer & Co., and Watson & McGill. ..."

The Chaitaigne & Boyd Petersburg Directory for 1872-73 listed Watson & McGill at Washington St. near Market. They were in business in Petersburg through 1913-14. The Historical and Industrial Guide to Petersburg, Virginia, edited by Edward Pollock, 1884, says, "For many years past, Messrs. Watson & McGill have been extensively engaged in the manufacture of plug and twist tobacco for the foreign trade, towards the supply of which Petersburg contributes more largely than any other city in the United States. ... The force employed in this busy establishment numbers about four hundred experienced hands ... Watson & McGill: Tobacco manufacturers of Petersburg. It fronts about two hundred feet on Market Street, by a depth of three hundred feet, and is centrally and conveniently situated. It is the oldest tobacco warehouse in Petersburg, and represents an enormous business, past and present. Until recently it has, in common with other warehouses of the city, been subject to the control of the state government, but in future it will be conducted as a 'private warehouse,' under the superintendence of managers appointed by its owners. The present managers are Messrs. James M. Parham and Perry Stokes, both being gentlemen of long experience as samplers and inspectors under the old regime. ..."

William Louis Zimmer Jr. registered for the World War I draft in 1918 when he was 38 years old, born 16 September 1879, and secretary treasurer at Maclin-Zimmer-McGill. He lived at 244 S. Sycamore St., Petersburg. He appears in the 1920 U. S. Census, age 40, secretary-treasurer of a tobacco company, and living at 418 S. Adams St., Petersburg.

John McGill died 14 Dec.1918, and is buried in Blandford Cemetery, Petersburg. His death certificate says that his father was also John McGill. Find-A-Grave has his memorial at His grave stone reads, "John McGill born township of Whitby, Canada Sept 29, 1831 died Dec 14, 1918."

John H. Maclin died 1 May 1923 and is buried in Blandford Cemetery, Petersburg. Find-A-Grave has his memorial at

William L. Zimmer died 24 October 1924, age 72. He also is buried in Blandford Cemetery, Petersburg. Find-A-Grave has his memorial at

Another important figure at Wm. B. Beach & Co. was Charles Howard Goodman (1891-1977). Charles H. Goodman registered for the World War 1 draft in 1917 when he worked for U. S. Tobacco Co., Richmond, Virginia. In 1927 he was treasurer at Wm. B. Beach & Co. In 1931 he was secretary-treasurer at the W. E. Sawyer Tobacco Co., as well as treasurer at Wm. B. Beach & Co. The W. E. Sawyer Tobacco Co. appears in Petersburg city directories from 1931 through 1941. Others connected with W. E. Sawyer were William B. Beach and his son, William Henry Beach (1909-1964). Over approximately the same period of time the same figures were involved in a company called General Tobacco Packers Corp. located at 214 E. Washington St.

In 1931 William L. McGill's son, Henry Peabody McGill (1901-1985), was recorded as secretary at Maclin-Zimmer-McGill. He registered for the World War 2 draft in 1942, age 41, employed Maclin-Zimmer-McGill, Old St. at N. Market. He was president of the company in 1960.

William B. Beach died 4 April 1941, age 72. He, too, is buried in Blandford Cemetery. Find-A-Grave has his memorial at

A year later William L. McGill died 12 May 1942. Like the others he is buried in Blandford Cemetery. Find-A-Grave has his memorial at

William H. Beach died in 1964. Also buried in Blandford, Find-A-Grave has his memorial at The Progress-Index, 13 April 1964, had this obituary, "William H. Beach died Saturday night in the Medical College of Virginia Hospital after an illness of several weeks. He was the son of the late William Branch and Nancy Maclin Beach. A native of Petersburg, Mr. Beach was educated in the public schools of this city, Hampden-Sydney College and was a graduate engineer of the Georgia Institute of Technology. He was a member and former deacon of First Baptist Church. Mr. Beach was executive vice-president of William H. Beach & Co., a business founded by his father before the turn of the century. He was vice-president and a member of the Board of Directors of Maclin-Zimmer-McGill and a member of the Amid Club. He is survived by his widow, Eula Faison Beach; two sisters, Mrs. J. Henry Smith of White Stone, Mrs. Nancy Crowther of this city. Graveside services will be held Tuesday at 4 p. m. in Blandford Cemetery, with the Rev. Glenn C. Womack of First Baptist Church officiating."

William L. Zimmer Jr. died 12 November 1965, age 86. Also buried in Blandford, Find-A-Grave has his memorial at

Charles H. Goodman died in 1977. Also buried in Blandford, his Find-A-Grave memorial in Blandford is found at

Henry P. McGill died in 1985. He is buried in Blandford Cemetery. His Find-A-Grave memorial is found at

Another Find-A-Grave memorial is found for John Henry Maclin, and the same memorial appears for Thomas Byrd Maclin.

In 2010 the Petersburg Progress-Index, 2 May 2010, reported that Maclin-Zimmer-McGill had closed: "Last tobacco maker in Petersburg ends local operations."

Copyright © 2019 Walter Grutchfield