Moses A. Gunst: United Cigar Stores, San Francisco

Moses A. Gunst

Moses Gunst of United Cigar Stores WS 15/2249

Moses Gunst of United Cigar Stores, San Francisco, #WS15/2249

Values Codes  I – E – P


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


San Francisco

Moses Gunst moved to California in 1871.

He went to work in a cigar store in San Francisco for $5.00 a week.

In 1873, 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 expanding to all the major cities of the Pacific Coast and elsewhere.

Gunst was a millionaire before age 45.

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

Gunst Cigar advertisement, sign on two-story brick wall for one of his branded cigars, Ukiah, California. Photo by Tom Winter


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


Moses Gunst was a “colorful character,” and 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, c. 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 he died in 1928, at the age of 75, 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.”


  • Norton B. Stern, “Moses A. Gunst,” Western States Jewish History 41/1.

Thank you to Tom Winters for his photo of the Gunst Cigar advertisement on the old building in Ukiah, California.