In the mid-19th century, this part of downtown Hamilton was filled with the small shops of local artisans. One of these was the Tuckett & Billings Tobacco Manufactory, located on the north side of King Street about half a block east of Bay Street. George Tuckett learned cigar making in the local shop of Alfred Quimby, where he became a member of the local cigar makers’ union. In 1866, he teamed up with bookkeeper John Billings to start a tobacco plant on this site. Their initials became the trademark for the popular “T. & B. Tobacco.”
Billings retired in 1880 and Tuckett continued the business with the help of his son. In 1890, the company moved production to a large, new plant on Queen Street near York Boulevard. The King Street plant continued operating as the Tuckett Cigar Factory for a number of years after the new plant opened.
Many Hamiltonians still remember the Queen Street plant. At times, this factory employed over 600 men and women, many of them from the surrounding neighbourhood. In 1891, cigarettes were added to the company’s product line. This plant closed in 1966 after the operations of the Tuckett Tobacco Company (by then part of Imperial Tobacco) were moved to a more modern plant in Guelph.
Tuckett was exceptional among 19th-century employers. His employees worked a nine-hour day at a time when other factory workers routinely put in 10 or 12 hours. He awarded his workers bonuses on the basis of merit. He shunned the strict system of fining that was common in most other tobacco factories. He gave long-time employees deeds to city lots and enough ready cash to build their own homes. The trust he gained in Hamilton’s working community was evident when he was invited to help arbitrate an 1883 dispute between two rival cigar makers’ unions in the city.