William Briggs and His Cigarette Machine

Drawings from the Briggs patent. Image from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.On April 13, 1909, William Briggs patented the first automatic cigarette vending machine.

Born in Maine, Briggs came to North Carolina by way of New York and New Jersey. Settling first in Fayetteville and then in Winston, he worked in a machine shop there before perfecting a machine that could produce 300,000 cigarettes a day in 1898.

Briggs formed his own company, and began to market his machines to the R.J. Reynolds Company, which used them to compete with its much larger rival, the American Tobacco Company.

Briggs quickly sold his machines and the related intellectual property to a Japanese company and was soon thereafter sued by United Cigarette, a larger manufacturer of tobacco machinery in Virginia, for patent infringement. After successfully defending the suit in an Asheville court, Briggs was hired by United Cigarette. He would go to invent a more efficient machine for them.

The new company moved Briggs to Virginia where he lived the rest of his life. He died in 1918, and his other inventions include the first return carriage for a typewriter and a stamp vending machine.

The original patent is available online via Google Patents.

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