Tobacco Industrialist James Duke 1856-1925
By Bruce Doorly
On October 7th a half mile long paved path from the Nevius Street Pedestrian Bridge in Raritan into Duke Farms was officially opened.

It provides another pathway and entrance to a beautiful park that has miles of trails, scenic lakes, plant life, and a few historical structures.

A popular location, Duke Farms attracts a few thousand visitors per week.
Most who visit know that the property was originally owned by tobacco industrialist James Duke. But few know much more than that. He died almost 100 years ago in 1925.
James Buchanan Duke was born in 1856 in North Carolina to a family that grew tobacco on their small farm. He was named after the then president elect James Buchanan.

The family business was run by his father Washington Duke along with James and his brothers.
When he was young his family would fall on hard times as their farm was destroyed during the Civil War. They would restart the farm and eventually move from farming tobacco to concentrating on manufacturing tobacco products.

James emerged as the driving force of the family business from the time he was a young teen.
He loved to work, once saying
I hated to close up my desk at night and was eager to get back to it early the next morning. I needed no vacation or time off. There is not a thrill in the world to compare with building a business.

And build a business he did.
James Buchanan Duke was always thinking of business and marketing ideas.

They championed a new flavor of tobacco and decided to take a chance and convert from hand rolled cigarettes to machine rolled. This was despite the fact that it was not known if the public really wanted machine rolled cigarettes and the machine to roll them was still unproven. But this turned out to be a great decision as the public soon embraced the mass-produced uniform cigarettes they made.
Sketch of early cigarette rolling machine
Over time he would gain full control of the business. His advertising and packaging included pictures of attractive women – a revolutionary tactic in its day that had its critics, but no doubt worked.

His market share grew substantially each year as he never stopped promoting and expanding to new areas. By 1889 he had captured 45% of the cigarette market in the U.S..
Then in his boldest move he consolidated with other companies into The American Tobacco Company, becoming the chairman himself. As result he then controlled 90% of the cigarette market. They would successfully expand to other tobacco products, which were, chewing tobacco, plug, snuff, and cigars.
In 1910 the U.S. government ruled his company was too big and broke up the American Tobacco Company into smaller companies. After the breakup, he would be left with a company that was 40% the size of the previous company.

Never to rest, James Buchanan Duke saw potential in hydroelectric power plants and he invested in them - building another profitable business empire. The energy business he created is still in existence - today known as Duke Energy.
As for his standing among the giants of business, in 1913 government records showed his vast fortune ranked him the ninth richest man in America. The leaders were John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J.P. Morgan.

It was said that he was able to spot talented and dedicated people. By treating them well, he won their lifetime loyalty. One business partner said that Duke thought faster, more accurately and grasped a situation more quickly than most men. And once he had decided, he acted promptly.
James Duke knew the special niche that his product filled explaining
Tobacco is the poor mans luxury. Where else can one get so much enjoyment for his five cents?
Creating Duke Farms

In 1884 James Buchanan Duke had moved to New York City as he felt it was a better location to conduct business from. But this move left a void in his life as he yearned for the open farmland that he had grown up with in North Carolina.

So, he decided to create a version of his old home. In 1893 he purchased 327 acres of farmland in Hillsborough just south of Raritan. This would be his weekend retreat. On Fridays he would gladly make the then three hour drive from New York City to Hillsborough.
He turned this plain farmland into a magnificent landscape. He had architects design streams, lakes, waterfalls and fountains. There were acres of roses and a greenhouse.

All kinds of plants could be found. Geese and swans hovered around the lakes. Over time, he purchased adjacent land which would expand his property to 2200 acres.
To fill the nine lakes, he pumped in water from the Raritan River. To do this he built a water pumping station and a filter station on the Raritan River in Raritan. The filter station was in a castle shaped stone building. While it is no longer used, it still stands today. Across from the castle, still standing, is the building which once held the pumping station.
In the early years he allowed the public to picnic and stroll on his property and they came in large numbers.

However, by 1915, too many people had abused this privilege and he decided to close his property to the public.
Personal life / Death / Legacy

James Duke would marry twice - first in 1904 in a marriage that proved to be an immediate disaster. Within two years he was divorced. Soon after he would meet Nanaline Inman and they would marry in 1907.

Together in 1912 they would have one child - a daughter - they named Doris. She was the center of his life.
In 1924, a year before his death, he announced that he had set up his charity trust known as the Duke Endowment. He gave 40 million to colleges, non-profit hospitals, the Methodist Church and homes for children in North and South Carolina.

He donated a large amount to what was then called Trinity College in North Carolina. That college would change its name to Duke University in his honor. This endowment was structured so that it would continue in perpetuity – its funding came from only the interest accumulated on its investments, thus the fund would continue on year after year.
Early in 1925 James Duke fell ill. After several months of poor health, he passed away on October 10th 1925. He was 68.

In his will he left an additional 67 million to the Endowment. Another large bulk of his estate would be left to his daughter Doris.
If you have not visited Duke Farms, it is time to do so. You will be impressed and may want to return often.

The mission of Duke Farms is to serve as an example of environmental sustainability and be a leader in environmental stewardship and to inspire visitors to become informed stewards of the land. It is open every day, except Wednesday, with hours that vary seasonally. Their website is