Moses A. Gunst: United Cigar Stores, San Francisco Jewish Pioneer

Moses A. Gunst

Moses Gunst of United Cigar Stores WS 15/2249

Moses Gunst of United Cigar Stores
WS 15/2249

Values Codes  I-E-P

One of the most beloved men in the history of San Francisco, Moses A. Gunst, was born, in 1853, in New York.


San Francisco

In 1871, Moses Gunst moved to California and went to work in a cigar store in San Francisco for $5.00 a week.

In 1873, Moses Gunst opened a cigar stand, then later formed the M.A. Gunst firm which made cigars and engaged in the wholesale and retail busi­ness, eventually in all the principal cities of the Pacific Coast and elsewhere.

Before he was 45, Moses Gunst was a millionaire.

His firm, which became the United Cigar Store empire, controlled many of the most popular cigar brands.

Moses Gunst was one of the early proponents of mass advertising, and his promotions were very successful.

"Ukiah, California: sign on old two story brick wall for one of Moses Gunst's United Cigar Stores branded cigars." Photo by Tom Winter

“Ukiah, California: sign on old two story brick wall for one of Moses Gunst’s United Cigar Stores branded cigars.” Photo by Tom Winter



Moses Gunst was known for his charitable deeds, his work for the Jewish Federation and Mt. Zion Hospital.


Moses Gunst was a “colorful character,” one of the city’s top gourmets, political figures and gamblers.

He was famed for his practical jokes, and would bet on anything.

For a number of years he was a Police Commissioner of San Francisco.


He held court daily in a big chair in the lobby of the Hotel St. Francis.

His friends included the great and near-great, such as Theodore Roosevelt, Hollis P. Huntington, Leland Stanford, Sarah Bernhardt, and Mayor James Rolph.

Moses Gunst Cigar Store, San Francisco, circa 1908.

Moses Gunst Cigar Store, San Francisco, circa 1908.



In 1886, Moses Gunst married Ophelia Cohn, daughter of Rabbi Elkan Cohn of Congregation Emanu-El.

Their son, Morgan, took over the management of the family business soon after his graduation from Stanford, in 1906.

Moses Gunst devoted himself to philanthropy, politics and travel.


When Moses Gunst died at the age of 75, in 1928, all of San Francisco went into mourning.

Mayor Rolph said:

“He was loved as few other men have been loved in San Francisco, because his democratic spirit embraced all his fellow citizens in a complete understanding of their aspirations.”


More information can be found in the following issue of Western States Jewish History:

  • Gunst Moses A, Pioneer Jews of San Francisco, Part One, A-L, Norton Stern, 41/1

Photo Gallery [New photos always welcome]

“Thank you” to Tom Winters for sending us his photo of the Gunst Cigar adv on the old building in Ukiah, California