The American Tobacco Company was founded by J. B. Duke in 1890 and dominated the industry by acquiring the Lucky Strike Company and over 200 other rival firms. The company built processing plants and warehouses in Durham, North Carolina. Antitrust action begun in 1907 against the American Tobacco Company broke the company in 1911 into several major companies: American Tobacco Company, R. J. Reynolds, Liggett & Meyers Tobacco Company, Lorillard, and British American Tobacco. American Tobacco left Durham in 1987.

A section of the East Coast Greenway, known as the American Tobacco Trail, runs along a railroad bed abandonned by the American Tobacco Company in the 1980s.