Prior to that time, cigarettes had been rolled by hand. Readymade cigarettes were a luxury item, but became increasingly popular.  The slow manual fabrication process—a skilled cigarette roller could produce only about four cigarettes per minute on average —was insufficient to satisfy the demands in the 1870s. In 1875, the Allen and Ginter company in Richmond, Virginia, offered a prize of US$ 75,000 (equal to $1,711,136 today) for the invention of a machine able to roll cigarettes. Bonsack took up the challenge and left school to devote his time to building such a machine.  In 1880, he had a first working prototype, which was destroyed by a fire while in storage at Lynchburg, Virginia.  Bonsack rebuilt it and filed a patent application on September 4, 1880.  The patent was granted the following year (U.S. patents 238,640  from March 8, 1881 and 247,795  from October 4, 1881). Bonsack's machine was able to produce 120,000 cigarettes in 10 hours,  (200 per minute), revolutionizing the cigarette industry. 
- Ancestry of James Albert Bonsack Archived 2007-10-20 at the Wayback Machine. URL last accessed 2006-10-11.
- U.S. patent 238,640, with diagrams. URL last accessed 2006-10-11.
- Bennett, W.: The Cigarette Century[ permanent dead link], Science 80, September/October 1980. URL last accessed 2006-10-11.
- Bonsack's cigarette machine Archived 2006-11-13 at the Wayback Machine. URL last accessed 2006-10-11.
- U.S. patent 247,795, with diagrams. URL last accessed 2006-10-11
- Prince Edward County seal – wheat sheaf vs tobacco hand, The Farmville Herald, Prince Edward County, September 24, 2004
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