The origin of Durham’s nickname as the “Bull City” has nothing to do with cattle! It was the result of a strange marketing mistake that was to turn into one of the most lucrative such gaffes in history. John Green of Blackwell Tobacco Company named his product Bull Durham Tobacco after Coleman’s Mustard, which used a bull for its logo, and which Green mistakenly thought was produced in Durham, England.
By the time James B. Duke formed the American Tobacco Company in 1890 from Blackwell and four other large producers, Bull Durham was the most famous trademark in the world. The name has sparked such popular Americanisms as “bull pen” (from a Bull Durham ad painted behind the Yankees’ dugout), and “shooting the bull” (most likely from chewing tobacco).
James B. Duke put his own fine touch on the mechanized tobacco industry. Duke’s highly innovative and aggressive marketing strategies propelled American Tobacco into striking international prominence. He put cigarette cards into each pack. By the 1930s, these were hugely popular and, today, are sought-after collectors’ items.
The invention of B.C. Headache Powders in Durham, in 1910, is likely the city’s first step toward the City of Medicine designation, but the opening of Duke University’s Medical School in 1930 was a bigger push. Today, Durham is home to many world-class pharmaceutical research companies and centers, six hospitals, and is a leader in the field of nanobiotechnology.
Durham has become synonymous with medicine. Nearly one in four people in Durham work in a health-related field, making medicine a leading industry. There are hundreds of medical and health-related companies and practices with a combined annual payroll in the billions.
The city has a physician-to-population ratio 4.5 times greater than the national average, and a bed-to-population ratio three times the national average. At the heart of Durham’s reputation are six modern hospitals: Duke Children’s Hospital & Health Center, Duke University Hospital, Durham Regional Hospital, Durham VA Medical Center, Lenox Baker Children’s Hospital, and the North Carolina Specialty Hospital.
The North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, located in Durham, is the nation’s first residential high school to prepare tomorrow’s leaders in the applications of science, mathematics, and technology, ensuring that Durham’s reputation will continue into the future.
Durham has also been very inventive in technology and medicine. Durham has led the way with 3-D ultrasound, Alzheimer gene breakthrough, AZT, childproof caps on medicine bottles, digital cellular telephones, and more.
For decades, Durham has been a popular location for the film industry. However, Durham as a subject for Hollywood dates back even further, to a film called Brightleaf, a 1950 Warner Brothers release starring Gary Cooper and Lauren Bacall.
The 1981 thriller Brainstorm was filmed in southeastern Durham at Research Triangle Park. It starred Natalie Wood in her final performance, Christopher Walken, and Cliff Robertson in a story about a scientist gaining access to other people’s minds.
In 1987, the blockbuster Bull Durham, starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and introducing Tim Robbins, was filmed in various locations around Downtown Durham, and was produced by Durham native Thom Mount. Many scenes were filmed at the Historic Durham Athletic Park, which still operates as a venue for community events and games. However, the Durham Bulls Baseball Club now plays at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, a 10,000-seat stadium with modern amenities that retains its quaint Southern charm.
One of the South’s great musical traditions, the blues, found a special home in Durham in the late 1930s. Since then, the Bull City has become the center for the Piedmont blues, a sensitive and delicate form of the blues played and recorded by the likes of Blind Boy Fuller, Bull City Red, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, and legendary guitarist Reverend Gary Davis. These and other artists, living and performing in Durham, playing on the streets and at the tobacco auctions, as well as in the clubs, gave rise to the term “Bull City blues.”
Like the other blues styles – those played in Memphis, the Mississippi Delta, and postwar Chicago – the Bull City blues helped define its community by contributing to our musical heritage.
Today, the Piedmont blues is enjoyed at Festival for the Eno performances in July, the Bull Durham Blues Festival in September, and various other times and venues around the community, played by contemporary artists such as John Dee Holeman, Fris Holloway, and Scott Ainslie.
Durham African Americans fostered one of the nation’s strongest entrepreneurial enclaves, known as “Black Wall Street.” A mural celebrates the history of Black Wall Street at the Heritage Square shopping center in Durham, as do sculptures on Parrish Street, which was the actual street dubbed Black Wall Street.
Durham African Americans gained national attention by pioneering the Piedmont blues, which are also called the Carolina blues. (Read more about the Piedmont blues in the section above.) Then came Clyde McPhatter, founder of the Drifters and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Today, the musical and artistic influence is much more varied and intense from those either living in or hailing from Durham: Grammy nominee and Emmy Award-winning jazz artist Nnenna Freelon; choreographer Chuck Davis, winner of North Carolina's highest honor, The Award in Fine Arts; internationally acclaimed Grammy-winning saxophone player Branford Marsalis; global fashion icon Andre Leon Talley; and 11-time Grammy-winning gospel singer Shirley Caesar. The late artist Ernie Barnes was an official artist of the Olympic Games, too.
Booker T. Washington declared Durham “the city of Negro enterprise,” saying, “of all the Southern cities I visited I found here the sanest attitude of the white people toward the black… I never saw in a city of this size with so many prosperous carpenters, brick masons,…among Negroes.” Durham is also home to NC Mutual Life Insurance Co., the nation’s oldest and largest black-owned insurance company, and M+F Bank, one of the nation’s first African-American-owned banks.
Durham African Americans are national leaders in education, from Dr. James E. Shepard, founder of NC Central University, the first publicly funded liberal arts college for African Americans in the country; to historian John Hope Franklin, recipient of the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and one-time chairman of the president's Commission on Race Relations; to Ben Ruffin, the first black chairman of the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina.
Sports teams based in Durham include the Durham Bulls, a Triple-A baseball club and affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays; the Duke University Blue Devils, including the four-time national championship men's basketball team; and the North Carolina Central University Eagles, including the Division II national champion men's basketball team.
Many famous athletes have played in Durham, including Baseball Hall of Famers Joe Morgan, who played for the Durham Bulls, and Dick Groat, who played for the Duke Blue Devils. Dwayne Washington played in the NFL and Rodney Rodgers, Christian Laettner, Danny Ferry, and Grant Hill in the NBA. Some young NBA stars have ties to Durham: both Kyrie Irving and Austin Rivers played for Duke. Roger Craig, the only person to play, coach, and manage in the World Series, is from Durham. Duke was also the first school in history to produce four first-round NBA draft picks, and Duke’s Elton Brand was the first overall pick in 1999, selected by the Chicago Bulls. Sam Jones, the first African American drafted in the first round of the NBA draft, played at NCCU.
Durham has 10 golf courses, seven of which are public or semiprivate and many of which are highly ranked. Durham’s oldest course, Hillandale, celebrated its centennial in 2011 and underwent major renovations the year after.
Group experiences in the City of Champions include the Duke Basketball Museum and Sports Hall of Fame, Durham Bulls baseball games, Duke Blue Devil men’s basketball games, and more, and can be one-of-a-kind memories that last.