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USDA Tobacco Market News Service Records


The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Tobacco Market News Service Records span the years 1920-2011. The collection is 11.5 linear feet and occupies 25 boxes. The records were collected during the early to mid-1970s by Larry Crabtree, a marketing specialist in the USDA’s Tobacco Division. An arrangement was made for National Agricultural Library (NAL) Special Collections to house the materials. The collection was initially called the Records of the Tobacco Marketing Service and was later named the Records of the Tobacco Inspection and Market News Service. After examination of the material, the name was changed to the USDA Tobacco Market News Service Records to better reflect the contents of the collection. Crabtree also undertook an oral history project on tobacco inspection and market news. Audio tapes of the oral history project were deposited with NAL.

The collection was processed and arranged by Sara B. Lee in December 1996. The finding aid was updated in 2012 by Nichole Rosamilia to reflect additions made to the collection in 2011. There are no restrictions on the collection.

Finding Aid File


Biographical Sketch

Larry Crabtree

Larry Crabtree was a marketing specialist during the early 1970s in the Reports and Analysis Branch, Tobacco Division of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Consumer and Marketing Service (C&MS). In 1971, he arranged to donate the materials he had collected on tobacco inspection and market news history to the National Agricultural Library (NAL). His purpose was to gather information in a form that professional historians could use. He also pursued an oral history project on tobacco.

J.E. Thigpen

The files of James E. Thigpen, head of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Tobacco Branch, make up a major part of this collection. Thigpen grew up on a farm 10 miles from Tarboro, North Carolina. Tobacco was one of a number of crops cultivated by his family. During the years 1928-1931, he pursued undergraduate studies in the field of agricultural economics at the University of Connecticut. After a year spent studying part-time at Massachusetts State College and Amherst College, he enrolled as a graduate student at Harvard University. He majored in economics with special emphasis on agricultural economics. In 1933, he joined the Tobacco Section of the USDA. Thigpen primarily participated in the development and administration of the production adjustment programs for tobacco until 1943, when he joined the Army. After World War II, he served as Chief Administrative Officer in the Tobacco Branch from October 1945 to March 1946. He then became the Assistant Branch Director until he was promoted to Director on June 1, 1948. In May 1954, Thigpen was shifted to the position of Director of the Oils and Peanut Division.

Historical Sketch

After the Civil War, farming shifted from a self-sufficing occupation to production of crops for sale. Markets were further away from the producing areas due to access of the railroad. Because of their need for market information, farmers were forced to subscribe to private agencies to obtain information. However, it soon became apparent that the only effective way of providing producers, and the trade in general, with the comprehensive marketing information they needed was through an unbiased public agency. Thus, in 1915, the Federal Market News Service was developed to collect and distribute accurate and timely information concerning current market conditions, and to aid in the effective distribution and fair pricing of farm products. Farmers now had a way to judge what price they should get for their commodities.

Tobacco was first listed among the crops specified in the Agricultural Appropriation Act for inspection service in 1929. The Tobacco Section was created in the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. However, it was not until 1931 that the Tobacco Market News Service started its work. Employees followed sales and prices at the tobacco auctions. They talked to growers, buyers' representatives, and warehousemen to better interpret the day's markets in their reports. The different offices of the service dealt with a particular type of tobacco. Next, the offices compiled their statistics and issued mimeographed market news reports daily and weekly to the public. Tobacco Market News provided tobacco growers, the tobacco trade, and other interested persons with timely information on prices, sales, and marketing conditions on the tobacco auction markets.

The Tobacco Market News operated as a companion activity to tobacco inspection on all markets functioning under the auction system. The Tobacco Inspection Act, passed on August 23, 1935, provided for free and mandatory inspection and market news on any market where two-thirds of the growers voting in a referendum favored such service. Tobacco inspection informed the farmer of the grade or quality of his tobacco, while the market news told him what price he may expect for it. The farmer used this guide to accept or reject his bid, and to possibly request a "resale." In summary, the service was designed to enable the grower to sell his crop at the highest prices consistent with its quality and prevailing market conditions.

Scope and Content Note

This collection comprises 11.5 linear feet of the Records of the Tobacco Market News Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) from 1920-2011 gathered by Larry Crabtree. Crabtree focused on a specific part of the Tobacco Division, the inspection and market news services. However, the material includes information on a general level regarding agriculture within the government, different aspects of the Tobacco Division such as specific tobacco services and operations, general legislation, specific tobacco legislation, and tobacco associations. The records are arranged into 18 series and housed in 25 archival boxes in the National Agricultural Library (NAL). In general, the materials are in good condition. However, interspersed within the files are onion skin papers that may deteriorate quickly with use.

The collection includes historical information on the Tobacco Market News Service (1928-1971); tobacco inspection (1927-1963); stocks, standards, and grading (pre-1929-1935); and auctions (1929-1962). There is correspondence, notes, and copies of tobacco annual reports (1932-1953); major legislation (1933-1952); and hearings and testimony (1947-1950). With the development of World War II, there are wartime regulation summaries and reports of tobacco activities (1941-1948); material related to tobacco agreements made with other countries after the war (1945-1952); and notes and reports of USDA committees meeting after the war (1947-1951). There is a large amount of the correspondence of the tobacco division for the years 1949 and 1950. Furthermore, there are notes and publications relating to the main USDA Market News Service which was the head of all of the individual agriculture commodities, including tobacco (1948-1964). In particular, there are files relating to the Tennessee Burley Tobacco Grower's Association (1946-1960), as well as miscellaneous organizations and a conference (1925-1959). Noteworthy miscellaneous files include the Tobacco Division organizational structure, black and white photographs, and various types of maps.

The Larry Crabtree Papers series (1932-1975) provides information on why the materials in this collection were gathered. It is through his correspondence that we know that Crabtree was a United States Department of Agriculture employee who wanted to document the history of the tobacco inspection and market news functions of the government, since no effort had been made to do so by the 1970's. Thus, as Marketing Specialist, Reports & Analysis Branch, Tobacco Division, C&MS, Crabtree obtained permission to gather historical data and seek oral history interviews with important tobacco leaders. The correspondence with these tobacco figures and National Agricultural Library employees dates from 1970-1973. Besides this particular correspondence, there is a 1975 memo written by Crabtree about a meeting with the National Agricultural Library in which he wanted to secure a more formal agreement on the history of the project. There is no indication of what transpired after this meeting or what became of Crabtree's project.

The Papers of J.E. Thigpen series (1948-1954) contain documents of a director of the tobacco division, while he was serving in that capacity. He is the only former director whose papers are included in this collection. Many of the materials that Crabtree collected appear to have been taken from Thigpen's office. In fact, it is possible that most of the collection may have come from Thigpen. His papers provide detailed information on his trips to Europe.

There is a substantial amount of papers in the Legislation series (1933-1952). The legislation pertains primarily to programs to support and stabilize tobacco prices. There are notes, drafts, and copies of a variety of bills and acts. A few of the acts were as follows: The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 which designated tobacco as a basic (storable) commodity and the Agricultural Act of 1938 which authorized marketing quotas.

Tennessee Burley Tobacco Grower's Association series (1946-1960) contains materials relating to a court case brought against the organization by some of its members and the United States government in 1953. Tennessee Burley Tobacco Grower's Association was a cooperative organization formed by the farmers in the Tennessee burley tobacco belt for the marketing of certain tobaccos. Materials document the misuse of funds primarily by H.S. Duncan who operated the properties and funds of the association.

Series Description

Series I. Tobacco Inspection and Market News Services, 1927-1971.

Series I consists of notes, correspondence, statistics, and proposals relating to the creation of the Tobacco Market News Service. It also contains weekly and yearly Market News Reports, and articles from Marketing Activities. There is inspection and market news history, yearly notes and statistics for Inspection and Market News Reports, and information relating to inspection processes. All are arranged chronologically.

Series II. Tobacco Stocks, Standards, and Grading, pre-1929-1935.

Series II contains bulletins on stocks of Leaf Tobacco, a copy of the Tobacco Stocks and Standards Act of 1929, data on the first Tobacco Stocks report, and notes, statistics, and correspondence on grades and grade analyses. They are arranged chronologically by stocks and standards, or grading.

Series III. Tobacco Auctions, 1929-1962.

Series III includes an outline and articles on the organization and operation of the auction marketing system of selling tobacco, and statistics and notes on total sales of tobacco from 1929-1940. They are arranged chronologically.

Series IV. Annual Reports of Tobacco Branch, 1932-1953.

Series IV includes correspondence, notes, drafts, and copies of tobacco annual reports.

Series V. Legislation, 1933-1952.

Series V consists of notes, drafts, correspondence, and copies of bills and acts of major agriculture legislation that relates to tobacco. All are arranged chronologically.

Series VI. Hearings and Testimony, 1947-1950.

Series VI contains statements, testimony, and hearings before Congress relating to tobacco issues. These are filed chronologically.

Series VII. Tobacco in World War II, 1941-1948.

Series VII consists of wartime regulation summaries and reports of activities affecting tobacco. Material is related to the War Production Board, War Food Orders, and Office of Price Administration. All are arranged chronologically.

Series VIII. U.S. Tobacco Agreements with Other Countries, 1945-1952.

Series VIII includes notes, statistics, correspondence, and agreements with Germany, Greece, and the United Kingdom. Foreign assistance to many countries through the Economic Cooperation Act is highlighted.

Series IX. Committees, 1947-1951.

Series IX contains notes, reports, and memos relating to the following agriculture committees: Interagency Food Committee, Intra-Departmental Commodity Committees, Trade Agreements Interdepartmental Committee, and Processing Industry and Advisory Committee. They are arranged chronologically.

Series X. Correspondence of Tobacco Division, 1949 and 1950.

Series X includes internal and external correspondence relating to the daily functions of the branch. They are arranged according to subject. Some of the subject areas are accounting, communications, meetings, personnel, procedure, procurement, publications, records, space, tobacco, and travel.

Series XI. USDA Market News Service, 1948-1964.

Series XI contains project notes and publications on the development of the Market News Service of the United States Department of Agriculture; and reports, studies, handbooks, and documents on Market News broadcasting. These are arranged chronologically by subject.

Series XII. Tennessee Burley Tobacco Growers' Association, 1946-1960.

Series XII consists of correspondence, newsletters, loan agreements, and legal documents relating to a 1953 court case against the association. They are arranged chronologically.

Series XIII. Miscellaneous Organizations and Conference, 1925-1959.

Series XIII includes notes, statements, statistics, and correspondence with tobacco associations; and notes, correspondence, itinerary, program, and reports of the 1941 World Tobacco Congress in Amsterdam. These are arranged by subject.

Series XIV. Miscellaneous, 1920-1961.

Series XIV consists of miscellaneous tobacco papers. Noteworthy items include documentation of the changes in organization of the tobacco division, black and white tobacco photographs of various sizes, and an assortment of maps.

Series XV. Larry Crabtree Papers, 1932-1975.

Series XV contains correspondence and material related to the tobacco oral history project(1971-75). There are documents created by Crabtree and the National Agricultural Library regarding tobacco inspection and market news history and the agreement on Crabtree and NAL's roles in the project. Also includes miscellaneous tobacco documents collected by Crabtree, Marketing Specialist of the Reports and Analysis Branch of the Tobacco Division.

Series XVI. Papers of J.E. Thigpen, 1948-1954.

Series XVI consists of correspondence, notes, remarks, statements, travel vouchers, and reports of trips to European countries made by Thigpen, the director of the Tobacco Division from 1948-1954. These files are arranged chronologically by subject.

Series XVII. Marketing Agreement and Order for Flue-cured Tobacco Auction Markets. 1967-1968.

Series XVII is part of an addition donated by Larry Crabtree in 2011. It contains records relating to a proposed marketing agreement and order for flue-cured tobacco auction markets. Materials include an explanatory note written by Crabtree; press releases and public notices of the proposed marketing agreement and order; documents presented as exhibits during public hearings, such as maps of tobacco-growing districts, reports, statistics on the flue-cured tobacco crop, and copies of the Federal Register; briefs and letters submitted in support of or in opposition to the marketing order; an index to the hearing record for some of the meetings in North Carolina and Florida; photocopies of newspaper clippings; and internal memoranda and correspondence related to drafting the proposed rules. This series is arranged chronologically.

Series XVIII. Infractions of Inspection and Grading Regulations. 1943-2011.

Series XVIII is part of an addition donated by Larry Crabtree in 2011. It contains records relating to alleged infractions of tobacco inspection and grading regulations. Materials include an explanatory note written by Crabtree; correspondence and memoranda reporting alleged infractions to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Tobacco Division; inspection certificates; an instruction booklet for tobacco auction market supervisors and inspectors; miscellaneous correspondence with warehouses; and letters from Stephen E. Wrather, Director of the Tobacco Division, to warehouse operators. This series is arranged chronologically.

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