An idea generated to meet a need & with zest & perseverance would impact the world.


Getting in the last of the tobacco.  Shelby County, October 2006.
Photo by Kentucky Photo File on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND


An Idea Generated Out of Need

An impoverished father had just left his tour of duty in the Army. His farm had been destroyed. All that was left was a little Bright tobacco leaf and some flour. He needed to make some money quickly to take care of his family so he sold the land to raise money and rented it back. The father continued to harvest the tobacco and when the first crop was ready they prepared the product and took it to a local market.

At the age of eight Buck Duke went to the market with his father where they found a cash market for their product. The family bought bacon and young Buck a bag of brown sugar. This was the beginning of the families tobacco business and would propel Buck to become the father of the American cigarette industry by the age of 33 (Woods, 1959).

Idea Generation & Us

An idea was born out of necessity. The impoverished farmer needed to feed his family. His crop was destroyed and he had to come up with something quick. Little did they know at the time that they would impact the world with a product that was yet to be thought of–the manufactured cigarette.

We can learn from this. We face circumstances that require us to act and we do so without much thought. We may have circumstances that beg for action, but we don’t take it. The farmer had an idea that fit with his situation and he tried it.


The farmer developed his business for the next 15 years. I often wonder how people get into a certain business, hobby, or lifestyle. This story demonstrates it was inherent in who this man was and his circumstance. It just fit.

Young Buck Duke grew up in the family business and by the time he was in his twenties he was an integral part of it. The family later had their own factory though they still weren’t able to compete with the leading companies of the day.

Can’t compete didn’t stop them from moving ahead with their idea.

The Idea Transformed

The idea was in process for over 15 years. A key thing to remember. How often do we give our ideas a few days, weeks, or months let alone 15 years? Buck did. He “thought big, and started acting it at the age of 24” (Woods, 1959). Buck had something his competitors didn’t have and that was zest and talent. Talent that had been developing for 16 years (he didn’t live in a 3 second world).

Started Living It

When Buck was ready to act big he gathered the resources he needed to try his idea, he contracted with a risky and unproven manufacturing machine, and outlined the foundation of his business:

Good Product-He only used choice leaf.
Good Process-He used efficient and emerging mechanization.
Good Price-Price it as low as possible.

Buck teamed with someone who had global merchandising experience. He had seen his dad scrap to get his idea off the ground and he continued in the same spirit. During the day he would watch over manufacturing and at night he did market research by “counting discarded cigarette boxes on the street to gauge progress in various brands” (Woods, 1959). This humbles me. Buck sets a high standard to emulate. I have many years of work ahead of me to develop my idea and have not put in that kind of work to ensure it’s success.

At the age of 33 Buck’s zest, talent, and perseverance paid off. Duke & Sons merged with one of the leading manufacturers of tobacco products and formed the American Tobacco Company. Buck was young, but he had already been in the business for 25 years. His father needed to provide for his family and little did they know that young Buck would become the father of the cigarette industry.

Lessons for Us

Things like being impoverished, having their farm ransacked, hard work, little resources and lack of perceived know how didn’t stop them. Meeting a need drove them to succeed.

Words like zest, hard work, perseverance, think big, start acting, bring together resources, risky, unproven, try, contracted for less, choice, efficient, and right were a part of Buck’s vocabulary and actions. He talked it and walked it.

I have often struggled with trying to find some deeper meaning to my life when all I really need to do is look at the obvious. Buck was selling tobacco at the age of eight. He simply embraced what was in front of him. He poured his personality into that and used sound practices to ensure success.

Buck didn’t just step into this. He worked and developed what his father started for over 25 years. He wasn’t afraid to try his ideas and gathered the needed resources to make them work. He wasn’t afraid to get dirty. If Buck could go out on the street and count cigarette boxes at night then I can put down my smart phone and work on my ideas. The only thing holding us back from success is ourselves.

Think big and act on it,

Marcy Pedersen

Woods, C. (1959).  Ideas That Became Big Business.  Baltimore, Maryland:  FOUNDERS, Inc.


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