41 years ago today, Brown & Williamson officially opened its doors and Macon, Georgia became home to the company's primary manufacturing facility. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation had been a staple in the Macon-Bibb County economy since 1977 and at peak production in 1997, Brown & Williamson's Macon plant produced 30 billion cigarettes a year and employed 3,000 people.
In the 1960s, Brown & Williamson was growing at a rate twice that of its industry average. Heading towards the 1970s, all indications were that this substantial growth would continue. Brown & Williamson's two major plants—Louisville and Petersburg—had expanded exponentially and based on B&W's projections, additional plant capacity was an absolute necessity.
By the early 70s, the Macon, Georgia plant was conceived and funded as an investment in the future. Then came the downturn and in 1973, B&W's rate of growth declined. By 1975, the company's market share was decreasing at an accelerating rate and significant investments had been made in land, and construction had already begun on the Macon plant. That construction was continued with high hopes of rapidly turning the sales decline around, therefore permitting all three major manufacturing plants to be in use for production.
In January, 1977, the Macon plant opened with a core of it's employees being transfers from Louisville and Petersburg.
By 1978, the company's sales position was looking bleak; decline was continuing and the total U.S. industry tobacco sales were leveling off. Brown & Williamson realized that they had built beyond it's expectations. For that and many other reasons, it became clear that Macon's production, efficiency and output could provide the immediate economic stability and the additional growth potential that the tobacco producer required. Macon had to become Brown & Williamson's primary manufacturing facility. Louisville plant operations would have to be phased out, while Petersburg's plant was reduced then later closed.
In 1994, the city of Macon was completely cut off by flood waters that severed all roads in and out of town. Most of the city lost all water service during the height of flood when two major treatment plants were flooded. The flood also endangered the day-to-day operations of Brown & Williamson's facility, shutting it down for a ten days. To avoid any prolonged hardship, B&W hired three separate trucking firms that delivered water to the plant every six seconds, 24 hours a day, for 19 days - all the while sharing its water and resources with Macon.