James Albert Bonsack

Bonsack's cigarette rolling machine, as shown on U.S. patent 238,640.

James Albert Bonsack (October 9, 1859,[1][2] – June 1, 1924) was an American inventor who invented the first cigarette rolling machine in 1880.

Prior to that time, cigarettes had been rolled by hand. Readymade cigarettes were a luxury item, but became increasingly popular.[3] The slow manual fabrication processa skilled cigarette roller could produce only about four cigarettes per minute on average[4]was insufficient to satisfy the demands in the 1870s. In 1875, the Allen and Ginter company in Richmond, Virginia, offered a prize of US$ 75,000 for the invention of a machine able to roll cigarettes. Bonsack took up the challenge and left school to devote his time to building such a machine.[3] In 1880, he had a first working prototype, which was destroyed by a fire while in storage at Lynchburg, Virginia.[4] Bonsack rebuilt it and filed a patent application on September 4, 1880.[3] The patent was granted the following year (U.S. patents 238,640[2] from March 8, 1881 and 247,795[5] from October 4, 1881). Bonsack's machine was able to produce 120,000 cigarettes in 10 hours,[4] (200 per minute), revolutionizing the cigarette industry.[3]


The census-designated place of Bonsack, Virginia, located in Roanoke County, was named after James Bonsack, who lived in this town located along route 460 between Roanoke and Bedford.[6]


  1. Ancestry of James Albert Bonsack. URL last accessed 2006-10-11.
  2. 1 2 U.S. patent 238,640, with diagrams. URL last accessed 2006-10-11.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Bennett, W.: The Cigarette Century, Science 80, September/October 1980. URL last accessed 2006-10-11.
  4. 1 2 3 Bonsack's cigarette machine. URL last accessed 2006-10-11.
  5. U.S. patent 247,795, with diagrams. URL last accessed 2006-10-11
  6. Prince Edward County seal wheat sheaf vs tobacco hand, The Farmville Herald, Prince Edward County, September 24, 2004

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