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History of Dill’s Best and Dill’s Pipe Cleaners

January 7th, 2010 · 14 Comments

By Garland Pollard

Dill’s Best TobaccoOne of the oldest extant American tobacco brands is Dill’s.

J.G. Dill was once a great Virginia tobacco company, known worldwide for its Dill’s Best pipe tobacco. While as far as we know the tobacco brand Dill’s does not survive, Dill’s Premium Pipe Cleaners, known by their yellow and red package, do live on.

J.G. Dill, mostly a maker of pipe tobaccos, gradually lost favor as Americans largely quit smoking pipes. At some point it became a part of U.S. Tobacco; the packaging would read J.G. Dill (U.S. Tobacco Successor) or something similar. Gradually, the company brand disappeared.

The 1946 trademark application for Dill’s Best from U.S. Tobacco points to the first use of the Dill’s Best name in 1885, though other packages say 1848. Dill’s also made a nautical-feeling brand called Look Out cut plug, and had sister brands like the cigarette called Sano (an early low tar), as well as Tweed and Model. It is unclear when U.S. Tobacco (or J.G. Dill) started selling pipe cleaners.

For a time, the brand sponsored network television, including the live NBC show called Martin Kane, Private Eye. Veoh has an episode online with an intro showing the tobacco products, as well as numerous people smoking the brands (the camera cuts to the tobacco label, quite overhanded product placement, including regular visits to a tobacco shop). Click on the show title for the Veoh link:

Martin Kane, Private Eye, 1949-54

[Narrator] “Martin Kane, Private Eye…presented by Model…Dill’s Best…Old Briar Pipe Tobacco…and their new teammate…Sano cigarettes for full smoking pleasure, yet only one percent nicotine.” (Voice of William Gargan as Kane) “This is Martin Kane with a story about a dime-a-dance girl, a Broadway joint, a niece named Irma Field, and her uncle, a distinguished old gent named Brooks Field who currently has his Brooks Brothers parked in my guest chair.”

Dill’s was the creation of the Richmond brothers J.D. and Adolph Dill, who created Dill’s Best, according to The Entrepreneurs: Explorations Within the American Tradition by Robert Sobel. Yours truly happens to be fascinated by Dill’s, mostly because he lived in a Richmond, Virginia house build by Adolph, which is also spelled Addolph, and one of his favorite buildings in Richmond (indeed the world) is the Model Tobacco building. Dill’s Pipe

Dill’s was one of the many family owned tobacco companies of the turn of the century; another was T.C. Williams, whose son, Adolph Dill Williams, was a generous benefactor to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. (History question: We’d love some reader help on the genealogy, please!)

While the pipe tobacco is gone, Dill’s pipe cleaners still survive, though younger users of pipe cleaners probably don’t even know what they were originally used for. Indeed they have been renamed in many craft stores, though most still know them as pipe cleaners. We wonder if there isn’t a bigger market at Michael’s than at the tobacco stores.

Dill’s Pipe Cleaners were later sold to Lane Limited, and the trademark was recently renewed by its new owners, International Pipes and Accessories, 1731 U.S. Highway 21 South, Sparta, SC, 28675.

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Tags: Tobacco

14 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Bruce LeRoy Dill // Jan 21, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    search for family . J. G. Dill and John Henry Dill is their son. The J.G. Dill Tobaccco Co.

  • 2 Garland Pollard // Jan 22, 2010 at 8:16 am

    Some info from Bruce Dill about Dill genealogy:

    In France around 1750 we were known as ladill after coming from France Mr ladill married a Dutch woman and John Henry Dill is their son. It’s handed down word of mouth that there were several, some say seven, brothers in France, living under different spellings of last name here are some examples: ladill, ledill, ledille and in order to escape the danton’s jurisdiction during the french Revolution (1789-99) they decided to get to America the best way they could and when they got here they would all take the last name Dill. They settled mainly in the Carolinas and Virginia, as late as 1802. The J.G. Dill Tobacoo Co. is a 15th cousin from Grover Dills generation. The other Dills scattered, some going to Pennsylvania, new york, and Michigan, Ohio; this should be a good start for my search. If others who know the story of our ancestors would like to contact me maybe we can share info. My email is dillportland@yahoo.com.

    I look forward to hearing from any family or friends of the family.

  • 3 Jerry E Dill // Sep 20, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    Our research is fairly well documented on our web site. My great grandfather, Jeremiah McLain Dill showed up in Ola, Gem County, Idaho area with no (yet) verifiable traceable roots. We continue the pursuit, but are looking into Ohio as a likely source for his family.

    Any information you can add would be greatly appreciated.
    *Jerry

  • 4 milton dimate ortiz // Dec 1, 2010 at 10:11 am

    Deproto pueda interesarles un tarro de tabaco que tiene una fecha de fabricacion de nov de 1956

  • 5 Lisa November // May 25, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    My grandmother was a Dill and she and one of her brothers traced our Dills back to Monaghan County, Ireland with the first Dill coming to America in the mid 1700’s, Matthew Dill, who founded Dillsburg, Penn. He died Capt. Matthew Dill and is buried in Dillsburg.

  • 6 John McGlothlin // Jun 7, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Adolph Dill (8 Jan 1792 – 13 Aug 1867) was born in the District of Columbia but his family were German immigrants in Pennsylvania. His sister, Christiana, married Jesse Williams 19 Feb 1822. Jesse & Christiana were the parent of Thomas C. Williams Sr. Thomas Sr. had two sons, T.C. Jr and Adolph Dill and they were the tobacco boys. Jesse was my great great grandfather.

  • 7 Susan Mitchell // Jul 4, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    I’d like to add a few things to John’s history. Joseph Gorgas Dill (1827-1886) owned the tobacco company and, upon his death, left its holdings to his younger brother Adolph Dill Jr. (b. 1840 – d. after 1920).

    Joe Dill was the oldest surviving son of Adolph Dill (1792-1867), a baker in Richmond who was born in Georgetown DC, the son of Nicholas Dill, an immigrant to Germantown in Philadelphia from Medderscheim, Germany, and his wife Christina Gussman.

    Adolph Dill Sr. moved to Richmond in the early 1800s and built a successful business as a baker, eventually becoming one of the main suppliers of bread to Confederate troops who were stationed in Richmond. Adolph was a member of the first vestry of St. James Episcopal Church in Richmond and originally owned the entire city block surrounding his Clay St. home in Jackson Ward. One of Adolph’s sisters married into the Williams family and was the mother of Thomas Charles Williams Sr. (1831-1889), of T. C. Williams tobacco fame.

    Adolph Dill Sr. married twice; both his wives were named Hannah. Joseph Dill’s mother was Adolph Sr.’s second wife. She was Hannah Keyser Gorgas (1804-1870), a Germantown native whose ancestors helped to settle what are now the Germantown and Roxborough neighborhoods of Philadelphia. She was also a cousin of Adolph Sr.’s 1st wife Hannah Heisler of Louisa Co VA.

    Joe Dill died unmarried, but fathered an out of wedlock daughter in the late 1850s, his only known child, who he supported financially and educated during her youth. She became a schoolteacher in Richmond until her marriage to a Baptist minister a few years before Joe’s death.

    Joe served briefly as a Confederate soldier, but also spent some of the Civil War years buying goods for sale to the army of the Confederacy. Joe Dill’s tobacco factory was at 21st and Franklin in Richmond. It has gone through a fire and deterioration, but has recently been renovated and modernized. I believe it’s residential space now. As you are aware, the Adolph Dill house now houses Richmond’s Black history and cultural museum. Nice that you used to live there. It’s a lovely old place

  • 8 Linwood Hines // Dec 17, 2012 at 10:12 am

    Our Richmond, VA area pipe smokers’ club – the Conclave Of Richmond Pipe Smokers – would like to hear more about Dills and other Richmond area pipe tobacco manufacturing! Please contact me if you have more info (on any of the manufacturers or other items)!

  • 9 Joyce Johnson // Jun 26, 2014 at 9:15 pm

    I have some Dill items and would really like to inguire about. Sincerely

  • 10 Paul // Dec 8, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    “…the trademark was recently renewed by its new owners, International Pipes and Accessories, 1731 U.S. Highway 21 South, Sparta, SC, 28675.” That should be Sparta, NC NOT SC. It is the Dr. Grabow pipe company.

  • 11 Wendy C. // Sep 16, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    After my father passed away I found sn old almost empty pkg of Dill’s Pipe Cleaners. The price was nineteen cents. Any chance someone might know how long ago that was?

  • 12 Edmund Druilhet // Jan 2, 2018 at 10:23 pm

    My family were the Dills that left virginia and carolina and started 3 Cotton Ginns in Georgia. M.P. Dill company. Anybody related? I was told the family had Tobacco company before they left.

  • 13 Tom Miller // Jan 14, 2018 at 9:11 pm

    I have 29 packages of Dill’s pipe cleaners with a “Price 2 cents” and “How to smoke a pipe” on one side and “The reason why Dill’s best is the best pipe smoking tobacco” on the other. Each has I believe 10 cleaners inside the sleeve which also has Pat. applied for on the top of the sleeve. I would like to know when these were being sold. All are in excellent condition. Any help.

  • 14 Tom Miller // Jan 15, 2018 at 9:17 am

    I can be reached at tfmillerini@gmail.com.

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