Automobile mileage reminder advertising premium used to track oil changes.  Brass. 1930's(?)​​

Ben Bey Cigars     

Elson Family Gravesite

Grommes & Elson Factory


Nathan Elson

John B. Grommes

In 1900, John B. Grommes, Andrew J. Kennedy, and Nathan Elson partnered to establish a new cigar manufacturing enterprise.  Operating out of Chicago as the Grommes & Kennedy Cigar Company, they produced the Ben Bey cigar.  In 1908, Kennedy resigned and the company's name was changed to Grommes & Elson.  Around 1921, John Grommes and Nathan Elson dissolved their partnership.  Nathan Elson established the Nathan Elson & Co, taking with him the Ben Bey Brand.  Under Nathan Elson's sole leadership, the Ben Bey brand flourished in terms of sales, recognition, and respect.  By the late 1920's, it was a leading brand, particularly in the Midwest.  Nathan died in 1931 and passed the baton of leadership to his son, Adam, who maintained Ben Bey's position as a market leader.  In response to a changing marketplace, however, Nathan Elson & Co, along with the Ben Bey brand,  was sold to DWG Cigar  Corporation in 1948.  Ben Bey cigars are still being manufactured by the National Cigar Corporation in Frankfort, Indiana. The detailed chronology below was derived from over 250 primary source documents such as period newspapers, trade publications, and private correspondence.   Please complete the "Contact Us" form on the Home Page if you have additional or conflicting information to offer.




09/25/1875Nathan Elson born in Radomyshl, Kiev, RussiaNathan Elson Passport Application dated 09/22/1919
1889Nathan Elson arrived in ChicagoThe Book of Chicagoans, 1905, Albert Nelson Marquis
1890Nathan Elson started working as cigar makerAdam Elson, Personal Communication, 12/23/1985
1896Nathan Elson started own business in mother's attic in ChicagoAdam Elson, Personal Communication, December 23, 1985

Nathan Elson naturalized in Chicago

Adam Elson, Personal Communication, 12/23/1985
07/01/1900Grommes & Kennedy Cigar Company established by John Baptiste Grommes, Andrew Joseph Kennedy and Nathan Elson as partners. They produced clear Havana cigars, doing exclusively wholesale business.  Kennedy was married to a member of the Grommes family.
The Book of Chicagoans, 1905, Albert Nelson Marquis
1900Nathan Elson residence listed as 629 Haddon Av, Chicago (with widow mother Hattie)
Chicago City Directory, 1900
1901 Grommes & Kennedy Co address listed as 205 5th Av, Chicago
Chicago Business Directory, 1901
1904Nathan Elson listed at Grommes & Kennedy Co, 230 Kinzie, ChicagoChicago City Directory, 1904
1904Ben Bey March sheet music published, used by permission of Grommes & Kennedy
As stated on printed sheet music
1905Ben Bey March performed in numerous ceremonies and events Multiple period newspaper accounts
06/25/1905Nathan Elson married Esther (Essie) Wiener in Milwaukee
Milwaukee Marriage Records Pre-1907
11/07/1905Ben Bay Label (Schmidt & Co) Label Design Patent. Schmidt & Co, New York,  #12459, 119, 336United States Congressional Serial Set, US Government Printing Office
10/29/1906Nathan Elson cruise from Havana, Cuba on the ship Vigliancia. Port of arrival was New York.Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, NY 1897-1957, National Archives
09/01/1907Jacob Elson (nephew) began working for Nathan Elson.  Reportedly worked as foreman. Address reported as 735 W. 14th Street, Chicago  in City Directory for 1907Ruth Elson Waller , The Saga of Rebecca and Jacob Elson, June, 1972 (Unpublished Manuscript)
1907Grommes & Kennedy address listed as 232 Kinzie, Chicago1907 Chicago City Directory
1908Nathan Elson Tampa residence.  Listed as Mgr, Grommes & Kennedy Co h 217 Magnolia av HP, Tampa 1908 Tampa City Directory
10/01/1908Grommes & Kennedy changed name to Grommes & ElsonThe Book of Chicagoans, 1911, Albert Nelson Marquis (Grommes citation)
10/28/1908Andrew J Kennedy retired from Grommes & Kennedy to pursue a new venture as a manufacturer of roller skates.  United States Tobacco Journal, V70, October 31, 1908
1908Grommes & Elson returned from Tampa to Chicago, located at Franklin and South Water Street. United States Tobacco Journal, V70, October 31, 1908
01/09/1909Grommes & Elson commenced distributing Ben Bey Brand in Chicago.  Distribution of Ben Bey in Chicago had previously been handled by Rubstrat-Cowley Company, which would continue distribution outside of Chicago. United States Tobacco Journal, January 9, 1909
1909Grommes & Elson location listed as 3rd Floor, 2 Franklin, Chicago; Nathan Elson residence listed as 83 Shakespeare Av, Chicago1909 Chicago City Directory
1910Nathan Elson Re-Located to 2814 Logan Blvd, Chicago1910 Chicago City Directory
1912Post card depicting Grommes and Elson Cigar Factory in Chicago printed sometime between 1907 and 1914. Click here for image. Address noted as 1720 N. Robey Street (now Damen Street). The building is still in use. Click here for image.
Worthpoint reference to eBay auction on 03/12/2007; personal collection
02/28/1914Grommes & Elson resumed manufacturing operations in Tampa, Florida  by purchasing F. Bolano Factory in Tampa.  Factory continued to operate under the Bolano name and supervision to add to the production of Grommes & Elson products in Chicago.United States Tobacco Journal, V81, February 28, 1914
03/02/1914Grommes and Elson purchased factory in West Tampa, Florida, located at Fremont Ave and Arch St. Purchased from M. Bustillo and Company.West Tampa Historical Trail, Copyrighted by Steve Rajtar
May 5, 1914Grommes & Elson were reported to be "more pleased" with their move to Tampa than they had been with their earlier involvement in Tampa "some years ago" (before 1908).
United States Tobacco Journal, V81, May 9, 1914
1914Grommes & Elson reference to business addresses of 83 W. Randolph and 1720 N. Robey Street.  Nathan Elson Residence 2814 Logan Place1914 Chicago City Directory
05/01/1915"Robert Bacon" brand introduced by Grommes & Elson in response to growing popularity of "shade grown" wrapped Havana cigars.United States Tobacco Journal, V.83, May 1, 1915.
1916Grommes & Elson attempted a retail operation in Chicago but "abandoned the endeavor".  They sold the store, located at 83 West Randolph Street,  to J. N. Karpass, a North Side dealer. United States Tobacco Journal, V85, March 25, 1916
1916Keebler & Co leased the store located at 83 West Randolph to Kahn & Lapp on behalf of Grommes & Elson, to be occupied as a retail cigar store.   (Note: This appears to contradict the March 25 report above. Perhaps the sale to Karpass fell through and they decided to lease it).
Chicago Daily Tribune, Page 20, October 29, 1916 
12/12/1916Ben Bey cigarmakers went out on a sympathy strike. The strike resulted from workers in one department being locked out. 175 workers were involved.
The Day Book, Page 7, December 12, 1916
12/30/1916The strike of Ben Bey workers ended by mutual agreement.The Day Book, Page 4, December 30, 1916
1917Grommes & Elson reference. Nathan Elson listed as Vice President, Grommes & Elson, Inc, 1720 N. Robey; Nathan Elson residence listed as 3018 Palmer Square1917 Chicago City Directory
1918Grommes & Elson diminished their manufacturing production in order to focus more on jobbing (distribution of other manufacturers' lines). Not likely jobbing will supersede manufacturing but it will play a "vital part in their business henceforward". United States Tobacco Journal, Page 26, V89, 1918 
08/18/18The Ben Bey Cigar factory at 1718-20 Robey Street, Chicago, was sold to the Ozark Garment Manufacturing Company for $40,000.  The three-and-a-half story building was on a 50' x 125' lot.  Chicago Daily Tribune, August 18, 1918
09/12/1918Grommes & Elson reference.  Joseph Fastoff names Grommes & Elson as employerDraft Registration Card dated 09/12/18
1918-1920Announcements of many different brands being distributed by Grommes & ElsonMultiple citations in United States Tobacco Journal, 1918-1920
09/19/1919Nathan Elson Visa Application to Cuba. Identified as "cigar manufacturer".  Reason for trip listed as "purchase for import".
Visa Application on
1920Nathan Elson 1920 Census reference as "Treasurer, Cigar Manufacturing"
1920 Census


A.M. Goehring "until recently with the firm of Grommes & Elson, is now a member of the sales force of Nathan Elson, manufacturers of Ben Bey Cigars."
The N.A.R.D. Journal, April 7, 1921
Grommes & Elson purchased a factory in West Tampa, Florida to augment the output of the New Orleans factory in the production of Robert Bacon Cigars.  The factory was purchased from Erlich Manufacturing Co.
United States Tobacco Journal, Page 10, V96, August 6, 1921
Nathan Elson & Co was established when Grommes & Elson dissolved their partnership. Nathan Elson retained Ben Bey brand and revived the Ben Bey label. Grommes took the Grommes & Elson name and the Robert Bacon line but his operations were a failure and were dissolved soon thereafter
Adam Elson, Personal Communication, December 23, 1985; N.A.R.D. Journal (04/07/21)
12/16/1921The Robert Bacon brand and trademark were sold to San Telmo Cigar Mfg Co, Detroit.  Grommes & Elson continued as jobbers (distributors) of the brand.
United States Tobacco Journal, V. 96, December 17, 1921.
1922Nathan Elson moved to Sheridan Road, Wilmette. Click here to view image.   Tobacco, May 25, 1922
01/05/1922Grommes & Elson announced its intention of moving out of Tampa, due to labor troubles. The factory will be transferred to Detroit.Tobacco, January 5, 1922
05/01/1922Grommes & Elson Co, "Cigar Jobbers", moved from the Ohio Building at Congress and Wabash to the northeast corner of State and Lake Streets.  Tobacco, May 11, 1922, page 16
06/20/1922Ben Bey label design copyrighted; #24502, Filed 01/30/22Official Gazette of the US Patent Office Volume 299
08/24/1922Nathan Elson & Co preparing to open new factory in New Orleans.  "Nathan Elson & Co, 400 Tchoupitoulas st,  will move two factories into one large factory at 530 St. Joseph Street."  "Chicago young men who came here a little over three years ago and have made good."  Mentions Nathan Elson, Adolph Fischer, and Max Shabisin, with Nathan Elson as "Directing Head"."New Orleans News" section in Tobacco, Volume 74, August 24, 1922
08/24/1922John B. Grommes noted as "head of the big jobbing house of Grommes & Elson".Tobacco, August 24, 1922
Nathan Elson & Co. was incorporated with a starting capital of $350,000. Incorporators Nathan Elson, Esther Elson, and Ben Wiener.  19 S. Wells Street.Tobacco, September 14, 1922, page 10
09/21/1922The New Orleans factory No. 59, 400 Magazine Street, will move into their new larger "daylight" factory to allow production of Ben Bey Cigars to be increased from 45,000 to 60,000 per day.
Tobacco, September 21, 1922, page 13
1923Nathan Elson & Co Inc reference.  "Nathan Elson Pres-Treas, Ester Elson, V-Pres Mfsrs of Ben Bey Cigars 4th Floor Lees Building 19 S Wells Tels Main 3964-4536"
1923 Chicago City Directory
02/09/1924Nathan Elson & Co and Grommes & Elson both noted in same trade publication issue, revealing that, for a period of time, both companies co-existed with Nathan Elson heading up one (Nathan Elson & Co) and John Grommes heading up the other (Grommes & Elson).  United States Tobacco Journal, February 9, 1924
1928Nathan Elson & Co Reference; "Nathan Elson Pres-Treas, Ester Elson, V-Pres, Benj Wiener sec 19 S Wells"1928 Chicago City Directory
10/01/1929Nathan Elson cruise from Havana, Cuba. Port of Arrival was New Orleans, LA. Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New Orleans, Louisiana, 1903-1945
1930Adam Elson (Nathan's son),  joined Nathan Elson & CompanyAdam Elson, Personal Communication, December 23, 1985
1931Nathan Elson's mother died
Adam Elson, Personal Communication, December 23, 1985
09/11/1933Nathan Elson died.  Adam Elson became President of Nathan Elson & Co
Illinois Death & Stillbirth Index 1916-1947; Chicago Tribune, Obituary, 03/15/89: Adam Elson
1948Nathan Elson & Co sold to DWG Cigar Corporation. DWG (Previously Deisel-Wemmer Co founded in 1884).  DWG sold cigar operations in 1966.  DWG later became Wendy's.
Wikipedia (Wendy's); Adam Elson, Personal Communication, December 23, 1985
Adam Elson died. To view a history of Ben Bey written by Adam Elson, click here. (Copy made available by Elson family member.)
Chicago Tribune, Obituary, 03/15/1989
Note: The webmaster would like to express his appreciation to Alison Lefkovitz, Ph.D. (1st cousin-3x-removed to Nathan Elson) and Michele Lefkovitz  (webmaster's wife) for their vital assistance in researching the Elson family history.