The origins of tobacco processing in Toulouse go back to 1674. Seeds were first grown in the South-West of France during the 17 th century. King Louis XIV was soon after the first to monopolize its distribution and sales under the state. In 1791, the French Revolutionaries abolished the monopoly, only for it to be reinstated by Napoleon in 1810. The manufacturing in Toulouse moved to the Quai de la Daurade (today’s Ecole des Beaux-Arts), and was then expanded to the Bazacle.
The plant, powered by the water flowing in the Garonne, was used throughout the city’s history to grind grain, for the processing of woolen cloth, and before that for the shredding and pounding of the leaves of the pastel plant – the foundation of Toulouse’s wealth during the late medieval and Renaissance periods. The construction of the Manufacture des Tabacs began in 1888 and lasted for six years. The architecture followed a uniform design by Eugène Rolland, an engineer who was also responsible or inspired the construction of the tobacco factories in Strasbourg, Nantes and Metz.
The building housed the entire manufacturing process: leaves were dried, a process referred to as curing, then grinded, and later fermented, a stage during which the tobacco is humidified under heat. During its heydays, la Manufacture in Toulouse was France’s second largest tobacco factory. And until the establishment of the aeronautic industry in Toulouse it was the city’s principal employer, with almost 2000 workers. Most of them were female as women were paid less and thus provided cheaper labor than men.
In 1963, the directors decided to close the manufacture. A new tobacco factory was built in Colomiers. As a consequence, production in the Toulouse Manufacture ceased in 1979, and the building was closed in 1987. The closing of the building generated much interest because the area now allowed for the development of an entire district that had previously been an industrial site. Demolition seemed like an inevitable fate. Fortunately, several Toulouse citizens fought against those plans and created l’Association pour la Sauvegarde de la Manufacture des Tabacs (Association for the Protection of the Manufacture). Eventually those efforts prevailed. With the help of the federal government the buildings were refurbished and became part of the Toulouse University 1 (Capitole) in 1996.
For a brief account on the history of the Manufacture des Tabacs, consider
By Teresa Aguilar, Amelie Abadie, Benjamin Prissé and