Willis Cigar Factory, one of eight cigar-manufacturing operations in Willis, was founded in the 1870s by Capt. Thomas Wesley Smith, a Civil War veteran and former sheriff. Smith moved to Texas as a boy in 1845 and was involved in a mercantile interest, which he moved to Willis in 1872 before he entered the tobacco business. Area farmers found the Montgomery County climate and soil conditions favorable for tobacco production, and high quality local varieties, including Sumatra and a type from the Abajo district of Cuba, won international awards in Chicago and Paris. Prisoners from the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville were used for labor in the tobacco fields. The business flourished in the 1880s and 1890s, but began to decline after the Spanish-American War. Owen Smith took over the firm after his father's death in 1901, and the business failed to compete when tariff laws on Cuban tobacco were lifted and employees demanded higher wages. Labor dissatisfaction became apparent when employees began to load gunpowder, or caps, into the cigars. The original factory building was abandoned by 1910 and burned in the 1930s.