The MAXIMUS Cigar Story

The MAXIMUS Cigar Story

Being a one-hundred and twenty-six year old company, J.C. Newman Cigar Co. has a  historical portfolio that includes almost as many brand names as the years the company has operated. Most of these brands feature a romantic backstory tied to the history or legacy of the company. For example, A-B-C was the first cigar brand produced by J.C. Newman. It was named after a streetcar line that ran near J.C. Newman’s family home in Cleveland, Ohio.

Another example is Cuesta-Rey #95. One of the longest, continuously produced J.C. Newman brands, Cuesta-Rey  was named after the bottles of Chanel No. 5 Stanford Newman often purchased for his wife, Elaine.

The Diamond Crown Maximus confounds this pattern. The story in our materials is that the cigar was conceived as a full-bodied companion to the mild Connecticut shade wrapper of the Diamond Crown Classic. The name Maximus is so bold, yet it leaves out the much bolder history behind the brand. Its name lacks the immediate historical connections of the Diamond Crown Julius Caesar or The American, but the Diamond Crown Maximus tells a powerful story of the collaborative process behind the very best premium cigars in the world and the relationships between the three biggest families in the cigar industry (the Newmans, the Fuentes, and the Olivas).

MAXIMUS BEGINNINGS

Stanford Newman noticed a consumer trend towards fuller-bodied cigars immediately after the cigar boom ended in the late 1990s. Stanford began working with his sons, Eric and Bobby, to develop a cigar that maximized the sensory experience of the American cigar smoker. Originally the Cuesta-Rey Maximus, the cigar soon found a home in the Diamond Crown line as the Newmans sought to develop a whole portfolio of super premium cigars. For the perfect tobacco blend, Stanford worked closely with his old friends Carlos Fuente, Sr. and John Oliva, Jr.

 

The Hands of Time

Everyone had a role to play in the development of this cigar. The Oliva family grew the choicest sungrown wrapper tobaccos at their farm in the El Bajo growing region of Ecuador. The Fuente family blended and rolled the cigar at Tabacalera A. Fuente in the Dominican Republic. The Newman family designed the packaging, label, band, and marketing strategy for the cigar back home in Tampa. Carlos Fuente, Sr. suggested the cigar be rolled as a 50 ring gauge instead of the Diamond Crown Classic’s 54 ring gauge to better accentuate the Ecuadorian sungrown wrapper’s flavor. One of his first major projects with his family business, Drew Newman worked closely with Carlito Fuente to design an “M”-shaped box (modeled after a Cuesta-Rey #47 box with some wooden panels attached on to give it the façade of an “M”), a hallmark of early production runs of the cigar.

They say a premium cigar takes three years and over two-hundred hands to prepare from start to finish. The development of a cigar brand requires tenfold more effort. Each critique or revision of the cigar was a refinement to the cigar, just as age mellows the tobacco and creates a finer cigar. Many cigar smokers take for granted the fact that manufacturing any premium cigar is a massive undertaking. The creative process behind a truly great cigar is a process of collaboration, deliberation, sacrifice, and patience. This is the story that is rarely told. The cigar bands and marketing romance catch the eye, but the stories of the men and women who created the cigar is what wins the heart.

About Holden Rasmussen

 

Holden Rasmussen is a Museum Associate at the “El Reloj” Factory Museum. His duties include conservation, collection management, gift shop sales, and docent work. He is a new college graduate who has worked and volunteered at museums and archival facilities in different parts of the country. Holden enjoys the American outdoors, French electronic music, Yugoslav militaria, Japanese comics, and Cameroon tobacco.

J.C. Newman’s Marion, Ohio Cigar Factory

J.C. Newman’s Marion, Ohio Cigar Factory

The J.C. Newman Cigar Co. has operated close to a dozen cigar factories across its illustrious one-hundred-and-twenty-six-year history. Although J.C. Newman PENSA is in Nicaragua and J.C. Newman El Reloj is in Florida, the majority of J.C. Newman factories were in Ohio. After all, Ohio was the adopted homeland of J.C. Newman and his first cigar factory was the basement of the family home in Cleveland, Ohio. Of those Ohio cigar factories operated by J.C. Newman, one of the only ones left standing is the factory in Marion, Ohio on 280 N Main Street.

Opening on August 15, 1919, The Marion, Ohio factory celebrates its 102nd birthday this year. Originally conceived as a dedicated plant for producing large quantities of premium cigars, such as Sarzedas or El Baton (made today in the J.C. Newman PENSA factory in Nicaragua) the plant brought hundreds of jobs to the small town.  The Marion factory produced several million cigars a year, its humidors having room for six-hundred thousand cigars at any given time. Hoping to create more jobs for Ohioans, Josiah Bindley, commissioner of the Marion Chamber of Commerce, and Senator (and future President) Warren G. Harding proved instrumental in attracting J.C. Newman to Marion. The two men were personal friends of J.C. Newman and, together, incentivized the expansion of the young entrepreneur, having just begun his company twenty-five years prior.

A New Home

The Marion factory was one of the first factories in the American cigar industry to have a dedicated mulling room. In the basement of the Marion factory, similar to the basement of J.C. Newman El Reloj, tobacco was cased and humidified using a steamer which kept the basement at 122° F. According to the Marion Daily Star, the factory produced both machine-made and handmade cigars. Employing mainly young women, the factory started production with fifty cigarmakers, but quickly swelled to over two-hundred cigarmakers! It is likely that many of the modern retailers and consumers of J.C. Newman products in the Marion area are the descendants of the young women employed in the Marion factory.

The first cigar brand produced by the Marion factory was Judge Wright. The master blender and operations manager of the Marion factory was Samuel Kabaker, J.C. Newman’s trusted friend and fellow Jewish immigrant, who oversaw J.C. Newman’s “Modern Sanitary Cigar Factory” in Cleveland. The Marion factory soon became one of J.C. Newman’s more successful ventures. At some point in the early 1920s, the Marion factory temporarily closed to expand the factory space. This expansion allowed the factory to better compete with its rival, the Orrison Cigar Co.

Marion was an important trial for J.C. Newman. By succeeding with the Marion factory, J.C. Newman proved his company could expand beyond Cleveland and Ohio. This hope paved the way for the eventual merger with the Mendelsohn Cigar Co. in 1927 and the move to Tampa in the early 1950s. It also shows J.C. Newman is capable of making a great cigar anywhere the company establishes a factory, whether its Marion, Ohio or Esteli, Nicaragua.

About Holden Rasmussen

 

Holden Rasmussen is a Museum Associate at the “El Reloj” Factory Museum. His duties include conservation, collection management, gift shop sales, and docent work. He is a new college graduate who has worked and volunteered at museums and archival facilities in different parts of the country. Holden enjoys the American outdoors, French electronic music, Yugoslav militaria, Japanese comics, and Cameroon tobacco.

The Cartabon: Cigar Unions and Factories in Tampa

The Cartabon: Cigar Unions and Factories in Tampa

There is much we take for granted in the modern cigar industry. The or sizes of cigars and the cycles of production, for example, are a result of a two-hundred-year evolutionary process in the American cigar industry. Traditions of American cigar makers, both unionized and un-unionized, gradually became labor practices found in cigar factories everywhere from Miami to Esteli. To a large extent, Tampa cigar maker unions and factories were integral to setting the standards for modern cigar production. Additionally, these traditions and production standards shaped the assumptions and mythologies cigar smokers associate with cigar factories.

First Photo of JC Newman Cigar Factory in Cleveland

Standard Cigars

Cigar makers (torcedores in Spanish) long enjoyed certain privileges, such as complimentary coffee or personal cigars, as a result of the artisanal skill required for their trade. The negotiations between cigar makers and cigar factory owners created the wage scales and vitola charts for modern cigar factories. The Cartabon, a guidebook for wages which doubled as a formal contract between the Cigar Makers Union (CMIU) and the Cigar Manufacturers Association (CMA), standardized cigar vitolas, such as the modern palma or panatela size, following a Tampa cigar makers strike in 1910. The factory reader or lector, a form of traditional entertainment for cigar makers, was a privilege enjoyed by cigar makers in Tampa until it’s proscription in 1931.

When the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. moved to Tampa in 1954, numerous coffee vendors approached Stanford Newman in the hopes of establishing the custom of complimentary coffee in the Newman factory. Allegedly, the culebra cigar shape began as a way to circumvent restrictions on the amount of allowed personal cigars in Key West cigar factories during the 1800’s. If you braid three cigars into one cigar, it is only one personal cigar. The aesthetic ideal of a smoking cigar maker with his Cuban coffee is a direct result of the privileges enjoyed by cigar makers in Cuba, Key West, and Tampa.

Beyond wage scales and personal privileges, cigar makers and their formal practices during production created the release schedules and production cycles of the modern cigar industry. Oftentimes, a short-filler cigar is back ordered because the standard practice of cigar makers is to wait a few weeks before releasing the bundles to be shipped. The specialized knowledge of cigar makers determines the aging time for long-filler cigars as well. For this reason, cigar smokers have to wait a whole year before another distribution of their favorite cigar.

Ruins of a Greater Civilization

Many innovations in the cigar industry came from the cigar factories of Tampa. Vicente Martinez Ybor’s (V.M. Ybor Cigar Co.) factory was one of the first to strip all their cigar tobaccos of the center veins. Carlos Fuente, Sr. (Arturo Fuente Cigar Co.) was the first cigar manufacturer to sell cigar boxes to retailers on credit. Additionally, he was one of the first cigar manufacturers to age his long-filler tobaccos and wrap his cigars in cedar. Julius Caesar Newman (J.C. Newman Cigar Co.) was one of the first cigar manufacturers to utilize cellophane wrappers and short-filler bunching machines for his cigars. Morton Annis (Gradiaz-Annis Cigar Co.) was one of the first cigar manufacturers to utilize glass tubes for his cigars and luxury goods, such as leather or felt, for his cigar boxes. The Hav-A-Tampa Cigar Co. was one of the first cigar manufacturers to create bundles of sweet-tipped or infused cigars.

These contributions from cigarmakers and cigar manufacturers created the modern cigar industry. While the mythologies of virgin-rolled cigars or pre-embargo Cuban tobacco superiority find little basis in reality, the mythologies of the culebra and the Cartabon created the modern vitola chart. Many of these ideas came from American cigarmakers, especially cigarmakers in Key West and Tampa.

About Holden Rasmussen

 

Holden Rasmussen is a Museum Associate at the “El Reloj” Factory Museum. His duties include conservation, collection management, gift shop sales, and docent work. He is a new college graduate who has worked and volunteered at museums and archival facilities in different parts of the country. Holden enjoys the American outdoors, French electronic music, Yugoslav militaria, Japanese comics, and Cameroon tobacco.

The Critical Role of Bunny Annis

The Critical Role of Bunny Annis

Annis was born on June 4, 1890 in Austria-Hungary. A Hungarian Jew like J.C. Newman, Annis started in the cigar industry as a traveling salesman. Cigar salesmen were often contractors who traveled from coast to coast, selling multiple brands for multiple companies. Sanchez-Haya Cigar Co., a cigar manufacturer with facilities in Tampa and New York, was one of the cigar companies represented by Annis. By 1917, Annis accrued enough experience in the cigar industry as a salesman to start his own company, the Gradiaz-Annis Cigar Co. J.C. Newman started his cigarmaking career in New York and quickly became an industry giant, rubbing elbows with men, such as Bunny Annis, and starting important lobbying organizations for cigar industry businessmen. Fellow Hungarian immigrants, Annis and Newman likely spoke German together and found great commonality.

First Photo of JC Newman Cigar Factory in Cleveland

Gold Label, 18 Carrot

In 1920, Annis moved his company’s corporate headquarters to Tampa and in 1928 he purchased the Sanchez-Haya Cigar Co. The most well-known Gradiaz-Annis factory is on 12th Avenue and 18th Street in Ybor City. This factory made cigars from 1908 to 1976. Under the Sanchez-Haya brand, Annis produced Gold Label and Shakespeare cigars. Annis became a highly influential member of the Tampa Cigar Manufacturers Association, providing the groundwork for the future linkages between the Newman family and the Cuesta family. Through Annis, J.C. Newman associated with many Tampa manufacturing giants years before the Newman family settled in Tampa.

One particularly eventful interaction between Newman and Annis occurred in the early 1950’s as Newman returned home from a visit to tobacco farms in Cuba. While visiting Annis in Tampa, Newman fell in love with the abandoned 1910 E. Regensburg El Reloj factory and concluded it was the future home of J.C. Newman Cigar Co. The humid climate, efficient transportation facilities, and easy access to Cuban tobacco made Tampa a cigarmaker’s Mecca. The Newman family moved to Tampa in 1954 and became the neighbors of the Gradiaz-Annis Cigar Co.

The Golden Age Ends

In 1963, Gradiaz-Annis Cigar Co. merged with General Cigar Co. The sitting president of Gradiaz-Annis, Morton Annis, the son of Bunny Annis, stayed on as a facilities supervisor and revolutionized General Cigar’s packaging with premium leather and cedar boxes. In 1964, Bunny Annis passed away. General Cigar Co. closed the factory in 1976 and relocated many of the machines and personnel to Kingston, Pennsylvania. The Newman family felt these losses keenly. As the last cigar factory in Tampa, J.C. Newman Cigar Co. seeks to remember the men who built the city through its historic cigar industry.

About Holden Rasmussen

 

Holden Rasmussen is a Museum Associate at the “El Reloj” Factory Museum. His duties include conservation, collection management, gift shop sales, and docent work. He is a new college graduate who has worked and volunteered at museums and archival facilities in different parts of the country. Holden enjoys the American outdoors, French electronic music, Yugoslav militaria, Japanese comics, and Cameroon tobacco.

Cigars in the Era(s) of James Bond

Cigars in the Era(s) of James Bond

James Bond is the embodiment of the popular imagination of gentlemen luxury. Who would not want to live like a globetrotting man of mystery? To that end, men spend much of their disposable income on limited edition James Bond S.T. Dupont lighters or Rolex watches. While each portrayal of the Martini-loving British spy had his own preferences, Sir Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan placed him firmly in the camp of cigar aficionados. As Pierce Brosnan poses with a J.C. Newman Cigar Co. Diamond Crown Classic cigar on the cover of the January 2021 issue of Cigar & Spirits magazine, the classic George Lazenby On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) quote comes to mind, “This never happened to that other fellow.”

First Photo of JC Newman Cigar Factory in Cleveland

The Original James Bond

Ian Fleming began writing the James Bond novel series in 1952 at Goldeneye, his estate in Jamaica. Hand-rolled cigars assisted the novelist as he created a genre of spy fiction novels that would span the twentieth century. According to Fleming’s novels, Bond enjoyed handmade cigars. Besides being Bond’s birthplace and the filming location for Dr. No (1962) and Live and Let Die (1973), Jamaica was one of the first harborages for Cuban cigarmakers fleeing the Castro regime. General Cigar Co. took over the Jamaican Cifuentes y Cia factory in 1969 and manufactured dozens of brands there until 2000.

Cigars on the Silver Screen

The majority of the Bond movies were produced when public smoking was legal and encouraged. Most Sir Sean Connery Bond films feature some sort of reconnaissance scene in a smoking room. In Goldfinger (1964), Bond is offered a cigar at the Bank of England but refuses in favor of a handrolled cigarette. Several Bond villains smoked cigars, such as Emilio Largo in Thunderball (1965), Franz Sanchez in Licence to Kill (1989), and Xenia Onatopp in Goldeneye (1995). Bond is given an underwater breathing gadget disguised as Romeo y Julieta cigar tube in Thunderball (1965).

The first official Bond to smoke a cigar, however, was Sir Roger Moore. In Live and Let Die (1973), Moore’s Bond lights up a Montecristo No. 1. Moore, a cigar aficionado himself, believed that a cigar smoking Bond would help distinguish his portrayal from Connery. Connery eventually smoked a cigar onscreen as Bond, but it was in the unofficial Never Say Never Again (1983). When Moore smoked again in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), he smoked a Montecristo No. 3. Moore, known for the quirky villains and gadgets in his run as Bond, allegedly had an article of his contract which guaranteed him an unlimited supply of Montecristo cigars while on set.

Mr. Brosnan

Pierce Brosnan’s run as bond lasted from 1995 to 2002, coinciding with the tail end of the Cigar Boom in the early 1990’s. Because of this, cigars are featured prominently in the Brosnan Bond films. The World Is Not Enough (1999) opens with Bond being offered a Romeo y Julieta Churchill in a Bilbao bank. In Die Another Day (2002), Bond visits a cigar factory in “Cuba” to gather intelligence. Due to American legislations, the filming was actually done in a cigar factory set in Spain. In the cigar factory scene, Bond walks past employees only production areas to ask for a discontinued cigar (a code word for his sleeper agent contact).

 

Brosnan developed his palate for cigars while filming television shows in the late 1980’s and by the time he was enjoying the height of his Bond fame he was a regular at several prominent London cigar clubs. As he lit up his Diamond Crown Classic during his Cigar & Spirits magazine interview, it was a reminder that his good taste in cigars has not changed.

 Daniel Craig has yet to smoke onscreen in his portrayal of Bond but set pictures from No Time to Die (2021) feature the actor smoking a cigar. Hopefully, Bond’s good taste in cigars will also remain unchanged.

About Holden Rasmussen

 

Holden Rasmussen is a Museum Associate at the “El Reloj” Factory Museum. His duties include conservation, collection management, gift shop sales, and docent work. He is a new college graduate who has worked and volunteered at museums and archival facilities in different parts of the country. Holden enjoys the American outdoors, French electronic music, Yugoslav militaria, Japanese comics, and Cameroon tobacco.

J.C. Newman Cigar Co. Anniversaries

J.C. Newman Cigar Co. Anniversaries

This is the 125th anniversary of the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. and while there is much to celebrate, those 125 years did not come easily. The company was started as an independent cigar-making operation, called a buckeye or a chinchal, on May 5, 1895. By 1900, the company boasted seventy-five cigar-makers and hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual sales. Today, the company is America’s oldest, family-owned premium cigar manufacturer as a result of countless prudent business decisions and personal sacrifices from the Newman family. Each decade of the company history is marked by a milestone anniversary celebration. The Newman family is very proud of its history of adversity and achievement because, as Tampa’s last cigar factory, this history is Tampa’s history.

First Photo of JC Newman Cigar Factory in Cleveland

The Once and Future Cigarmaker:

Julius Caeser Newman, the company founder, came from a family of Austro-Hungarians. His mother operated a tavern and a small farm while his father was a traveling Talmudic scholar. When he came to America, he did not know any English or business administration skills, let alone cigar-making. He became a millionaire within his own lifetime, a remarkable case-study of industry that ranks alongside the likes of Andrew Carnegie or John Jacob Astor. Julius was a consummate patriot for his fatherland. He frequently donated to political campaigns and veterans’ charities. Indeed, he even volunteered for the Spanish-American War in 1898.

The Golden Years:

Julius was quite proud when his two sons, Millard and Stanford, enlisted in the armed forces during World War II. Prouder still were his sons of the Golden anniversary (1895-1945) of their father’s company. Known as M & N (Mendelsohn and Newman) Cigar Mfrs. in 1945 due to a company merger, J.C. Newman Cigar Co. enjoyed one of its best years of business in 1945 because the American government bought huge quantities of their cigars to distribute to military commissaries across the European and Pacific theaters of war. Julius transformed a small-scale cigar-maker for local grocery stores into a national cigar manufacturer which supplied the American military. In honor of the company’s 50th anniversary, hundreds of people gave testimonials in Julius’ honor at the Hollenden Hotel in Cleveland, Ohio. The assembled business associates commissioned an oil painting of Julius which hangs in Drew Newman’s office today! In 1949, Julius would enjoy another anniversary in honor of his Judge Wright brand of cigars. The brand was awarded for forty-two years of consumer quality, far outlasting some of the oldest brands in the modern J.C. Newman portfolio.

The time between the 50th anniversary and the company’s Centennial was marked with hardships. Julius passed away in 1958, and, soon after, the Cuban Embargo went into effect in 1961. J.C. Newman Cigar Co. was pushed to the point of bankruptcy in 1986 as Stanford and his sons, Eric and Bobby, performed a leveraged buyout of the other Newman family business shareholders. The turning point in fortunes, thankfully, was also 1986. This year marked the beginning of the Fuente-Newman partnership that lasts to this day.  La Unica Dominican Primeros are one of the oldest Newman brands in continuous production, the first fruits of the Fuente-Newman partnership in 1986. The success of Dominican-made La Unica and Cuesta-Rey sustained J.C. Newman Cigar Co. into the early 1990’s and the Cigar Boom.

Centennial Newman:

The Centennial anniversary year in 1995 was marked by success and celebration. At the time, J.C. Newman Cigar Co. cigar supply could not keep up with cigar demand. Cigars were selling, in some cases, as fast as they could be produced. Cigar Aficionado prominently featured J.C. Newman Cigar Co. and Arturo Fuente Cigar Co. in every issue. On September 19, 1995, the Newman family hosted an extravagant banquet at the Tampa Yacht Club in honor of the company’s hundred-year history as well as its present success. The Newman family also hosted parties with renowned guests, such as Marvin Shanken of Cigar Aficionado or Edgar Cullman of General Cigar, throughout the year

The following year, in 1996, J.C. Newman Cigar Co. launched the Diamond Crown line of cigars. The Diamond Crown classic was an instant national sensation for the quality of the cigar and its constituent tobaccos. The success of the Diamond Crown after the Centennial anniversary year paved the way for future anniversary years of plenty. Just as Stanford honored the legacy of Julius, Eric and Bobby work to honor the legacy of their father. Now celebrating one-hundred and twenty-five years of history, J.C. Newman Cigar Co. looks to celebrate many future anniversaries.
About Holden Rasmussen

 

Holden Rasmussen is a Museum Associate at the “El Reloj” Factory Museum. His duties include conservation, collection management, gift shop sales, and docent work. He is a new college graduate who has worked and volunteered at museums and archival facilities in different parts of the country. Holden enjoys the American outdoors, French electronic music, Yugoslav militaria, Japanese comics, and Cameroon tobacco.

Ybor City’s Underbelly

Ybor City’s Underbelly

Native Tampans know a thing or two about criminal elements in Ybor City in the early 20th Century. (Prohibition era smuggling tunnels beneath the city, radical communist cigarmakers, the Anglo-American crime kingpin Charlie Wall, the Trafficante Crime Family, and the gambling racket of La Bolita, to name a few.) Ybor City’s criminal underbelly was reflective of the economic and cultural divides of the city. Ybor City’s different communities and sub-cultures provided the perfect pool of foot soldiers (and victims) for criminal organizations. The average Sicilian or Cuban immigrant to Ybor City was just as likely to lose money in a rigged game of Bolita as he was to join a gang of bandits and participate in a bank robbery.

Because cigar factories were the economic and cultural backbone of Ybor City, they were a popular target for organized crime. As labor disputes and the Great Depression weakened the Tampa Cigar Industry, organized crime and labor radicalism skyrocketed. In several instances, the historic “El Reloj” cigar factory, home of the modern J.C. Newman Cigar Co., and its staff fell victim.

Kissing the Ring

The cigar industry always had a unique relationship with the criminal underworld. Vicente Martinez Ybor utilized prison labor in his Cuban cigar factories in the 1860’s to maintain production rates. Ybor City was founded in 1886 as a company town for the cigar industry by Vicente Martinez Ybor and almost immediately Ybor struggled to control blackmarketeers and radical labor elements. Cigarmakers always sought better pay and special privileges for their artisan skills. When Ybor or other factory owners would not listen to their demands, they turned to labor organizations. 

The needs of the cigarmakers also provided a foothold for criminal profiteers. Charlie Wall, famed Anglo-American mobster and son of Tampa Mayor John Perry Wall, began his empire of corruption by patronizing striking cigarmakers in 1910. Wall consistently donated money to Ybor City charities around Christmastime. The cigarmakers never forgot Wall’s generosity and lent themselves as a voting bloc to Wall’s friends every election.

Nuestra Cosa

Ybor City was home to many immigrant communities (Afro-Cubans, Asturians, Chinese Cubans, Cubans, Italians, Germans, Jews, and Spaniards) who came to work in the cigar industry. In hopes of finding commonality or preserving cultural ties to the motherland, many Ybor City immigrants formed mutual aid societies (e.g. L’Unione Italian which was founded in 1894 or El Circulo Cubano de Tampa which was founded in 1902); criminal organizations formed in a similar manner.

The Sicilian Mafia or Cosa Nostra started out as a mutual aid society for Sicilian immigrants. As labor opportunities decreased and Anglo-American disdain increased, the Sicilian Mafia turned to morally ambiguous pursuits. As the racketeering and smuggling operations of Italian and Cuban criminals expanded in Ybor City throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s, it makes sense that they would find ready recruits from their respective immigrant communities.

The Law Won

In 1921, there was an attempted robbery of the E. Regensburg & Sons payroll as it traveled by car from the “El Reloj” factory. While a getaway car blocked the road, half a dozen bandits emerged from the brush and began firing into the vehicle containing the Regensburg payroll. Only after the armed guards brandished their .38 revolvers in self-defense did the bandits flee. When two of the suspects in the case were declared not guilty, various notable Tampans declared there was foul play. There is no doubt, then, that the secret staircase which runs beneath the “El Reloj” factory’s conference room was an escape route in the event of another robbery. The staircase leads from the historic general manager’s office to a safe room in the basement of the factory.

Up in Smoke

The attempted payroll robbery was not the last time the Regensburg “El Reloj” factory was threatened. The Great Depression weakened the cigar industry in Tampa. As cigarmakers lost their jobs or found their wages inadequate for the cost of living, they increasingly turned to radical labor organizations to protect their rights. One especially radical labor organization, the Tampa Tobacco Workers Industrial Union, had alleged ties to the American Communist Party and came under intense scrutiny from the Tampa police department. In 1932, it was discovered that someone had been stealing sticks of dynamite from the construction site of the Courtney Campbell Causeway. Based off intelligence from informants at the Tampa Tobacco Workers Industrial Union, detectives pieced together a radical labor plot to sabotage the cigar industry and warned the Cigar Manufacturers Association. Radical labor elements also intended to mix skunkvine, a foul-smelling weed, into the fermenting broadleaf wrapper tobacco at the “El Reloj” factory, thereby ruining the entire quarterly cigar production. Although no harm befell the “El Reloj” factory, the real or imagined conspiracy that was reflective of a very real threat to the cigar industry.

It would be quite difficult indeed for J.C. Newman Cigar Co. to be the oldest operating cigar factory in Tampa without a cigar factory to operate. When a Bolita promoter offered to establish the gambling practice at the “El Reloj” factory in the late 1950’s, Stanford Newman firmly refused.

Although the Newman family still operates the historic “El Reloj” factory, with all its mysteries and intrigue, they keep the factory running without any of the historic cop capers.

About Holden Rasmussen

 

Holden Rasmussen is a Museum Associate at the “El Reloj” Factory Museum. His duties include conservation, collection management, gift shop sales, and docent work. He is a new college graduate who has worked and volunteered at museums and archival facilities in different parts of the country. Holden enjoys the American outdoors, French electronic music, Yugoslav militaria, Japanese comics, and Cameroon tobacco.

Florida Tobacco

Florida Tobacco

The American is Drew Newman’s bold vision for the future of J.C. Newman Cigars. It is the first Tampa handmade American Puro in almost a century. Tampa was the cigar capital of the world from the founding of Ybor City in 1886 to the beginning of the Cuban Embargo in 1961. This was because most Tampa handmade cigars were Habana Puros or Havana Clears. Cuban tobacco was highly prized for its aroma and body and, prior to the embargo, easy to import. Florida tobacco, however, was also highly prized for its aroma and body.

A report from the US Department of Agriculture in 1900 graded Florida-grown Habano Seed tobacco the equal of Sumatran and Cuban tobacco, the premier wrappers of the time. Owing to the union of tobacco growing methods from the American South and Cuba, Florida was one of the largest growing cigar tobacco states in terms of acreage in the early 1900’s. J.C. Newman Cigar Co. historically used Florida tobacco in some form for its cigars since the company’s inception in 1895. Florida hit a tobacco slump in 1977 and no cigar tobacco was grown in the state until the efforts of Jeff Borysiewicz in 2013. Borysiewicz’s Florida Sungrown is an exceedingly rare Corojo 99 crop that is used primarily as the wrapper for The American. Although The American is a totally singular cigar, it represents a continuation of the traditions of the Florida Tobacco industry and the J.C. Newman Cigar Co.

Sunshine State of Mind

Despite being a hallmark of the American cigar industry in the early 20th Century, making cigars entirely from imported Cuban tobacco was a luxury few cigar manufacturers enjoyed. The majority of cigar manufacturers relied upon domestic cigar tobacco for filler and binder tobaccos. Julius Caeser Newman, the founder of J.C. Newman Cigar Co., utilized Ohioan domestic tobaccos, such as Zimmer Spanish or Gebhardt Ohio Broadleaf, as filler and binder for his cigars until the company relocated to Florida in 1954.  Wrapper tobacco, however, was mostly imported from Cuba and Sumatra. American cigar manufacturers viewed domestic tobaccos as too low quality to be used as wrapper tobacco. Notable exceptions to this assumption were Connecticut Broadleaf, Connecticut Habano Seed, Florida Sumatran, and Florida Habano Seed. Tobacco was first grown in Florida in 1829, and Floridian farmers were growing Habano Seed tobacco for cigar wrappers by 1860. According to the Secretary of Agriculture’s report in 1898,

Florida-grown Sumatran tobacco was of such high quality that it stood ready to drive imported Sumatran tobacco from the market. When shipments from Cuba became unavailable due to the Spanish-American War in 1898, many Floridian cigar manufacturers turned to domestic tobacco to make their cigars. Floridian farmers mimicked semillero (tobacco nurseries before the plant is transported to the main field) growing techniques from Cuban tobacconists to increase their crop yield and the quality of their tobacco. In 1915, Florida produced 3, 549, 000 pounds of tobacco! This tobacco was then distributed all over the country. Long before moving to Tampa, J.C. Newman was familiar with Florida Tobacco.

Problems, Domestic and Foreign

Because J.C. Newman Cigar Co. is a family-owned business, each generation of Newman leadership presents a new vision for the company. Under the leadership of J.C. Newman, Florida tobacco represented a way to sustain the business during domestic troubles. During the War Boom of 1945, the large tobacco trusts created an oligopoly over the critically important Connecticut Shadegrown wrapper tobacco. Smaller firms were unable to compete and, one by one, submitted to consolidation. J.C. Newman resisted the tobacco trusts by using Florida tobacco.

Florida Sumatran and Habano Seed provided an alternative for the company until the US Department of Agriculture was able to regulate tobacco purchasing rules. Florida tobacco came to the company’s rescue a second time in the 1960’s. The Cuban Embargo of 1961 was the death knell of Havana Puros or Havana Clears in Tampa. Rushing to find an alternative, Stanford Newman purchased Florida Shadegrown tobacco from Angel Oliva in Quincy, Florida. This light, candela tobacco served as a suitable wrapper tobacco until Stanford attended to his first African Cameroon Tobacco Inscription in Paris in 1968. African Cameroon Wrapper (ACW) tobacco became the wrapper of the Cuesta-Rey #95, J.C. Newman Cigar Co.’s flagship product until the 1990’s. Costs of domestic farm labor made it increasingly less profitable to grow tobacco in Florida. By 1977, no Floridian farms were growing tobacco for cigar manufacturing purposes.

 

Ain’t Like That No More

When asked about the rise and fall of Florida tobacco, Jeff Borysiewicz said it never really fell. Rather, Floridian farmers damaged the reputation of the crop through dubious business practices. Farmers would double as tobacco dealers and sell their premiere tobacco to cigar manufacturers as imported Cuban and Sumatran tobacco, pocketing tariff duties from their clueless marks. The inferior grade tobaccos were correctly labeled as Florida-grown, causing harm to the crop’s prestige. As farm labor costs mounted, Floridian farmers were reluctant to continue growing a crop with a bad reputation. Borysiewicz’s farm in Clermont, Florida resurrected the status of Florida tobacco. Borysiewicz’s Florida tobacco now adorns Davidoff, Drew Estate, and J.C. Newman Cigar Co. cigars. Just as the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. maintains Tampa’s status as the Cigar City with their historic “El Reloj” cigar factory, Borysiewicz preserves the reputation of Florida tobacco. Drew Newman utilizing Florida Sungrown wrapper on The American cigars represents a remarkable innovation of an American puro cigar, but it also represents a continuity of Florida’s heritage and the Newman family tradition.

 

About Holden Rasmussen

 

Holden Rasmussen is a Museum Associate at the “El Reloj” Factory Museum. His duties include conservation, collection management, gift shop sales, and docent work. He is a new college graduate who has worked and volunteered at museums and archival facilities in different parts of the country. Holden enjoys the American outdoors, French electronic music, Yugoslav militaria, Japanese comics, and Cameroon tobacco.

El Lector: The Voice of Ybor City

El Lector: The Voice of Ybor City

The E. Regensburg & Sons Cigar Factory, otherwise known as “El Reloj,” is currently receiving extensive renovations under the stewardship of the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. The Newman Family is restoring “El Reloj” to its pristine, 1910 condition as a way of giving back to the City of Tampa. The restored factory will feature a museum and factory store open to the public, as well as another homage to the cigar heyday of Tampa: a handmade cigar factory.

Located on the factory’s third floor and opposite of the filler department, the handmade cigar factory creates a premium cigar output from more than a dozen torcedores, or cigarmakers. When it opened its doors in 1910, “El Reloj” contained hundreds of torcedores rolling historic brands now in the Newman portfolio, such as The American or Admiration. Another iconic feature of the Tampa handmade days that the Newman family revived with their factory renovations is the institution of El Lector. The lector was an educational institution for the workingmen of Ybor City from 1886 to 1931. The lectors themselves, men such as José Dolores Poyo (a biographer and friend of the Cuban national hero José Martí) or Victoriano Manteiga (founder of the trilingual La Gaceta newspaper in Ybor City), read everything from Spanish Golden Age classic literature to local baseball scores for an illiterate constituency which labored all the while. In this way, the “new arrivals” to Tampa were often the most well-read. From the reconstructed lector stage in the new handmade cigar factory, the Newman Family plans to host guest lectors for their torcedores. The cigar city returns to tradition.

The Lector: American Democracy in Little Havana

Though steeped in Latin traditions, the institution of the lector was distinctly American. Anyone was eligible for the role of lector. The requirements were literacy and pronunciation skills. The auditions to become a certified lector lasted around ten minutes and judged the reader for their ability to engage the listener. The torcedores voted on which lectors they wanted to hear, and which books the lector would read. Lectors were paid at the end of the day based upon their performance. The best lectors, such as newspaper editor and poet Ramón Valdespino, earned well over $100.00 per week. (For comparison, Stanford Newman earned about $20.00 a week when he started working for his father in the 1930’s.)

A lector’s daily schedule was split between classic literature in the mornings and local news and baseball scores in the evenings. Most lectors spent the lunch break hastily translating the latest editions of English newspapers into Spanish. Indeed, many lectors, such as Domenico Giunta and Mateo Rodríguez, were learned men and spent their spare time editing bilingual newspapers

Lectors were a common sight in “El Reloj” from its construction in 1910 to the codified proscription of lectors in 1931. Indeed, one of the original lector platforms is still visible on the factory’s third floor, near the filler department.

The Lector: Vox Populi

The Cuban, Spanish, Asturian, Afro-Cuban, and Italian cigar factory workers of Ybor City attributed some, if not all, of their cultural literacy to the content that the lectors read to them. Don Quixote, The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes, La Dorotea, The Mayor of Zalamea, and many other classic titles became household names thanks to the efforts of the lectors. When the lectors spoke, people listened. José Martí, Cuban revolutionary and national hero, chose Francisco María González and José Dolores Poyo, both lectors, as his traveling companions when he came to Ybor City seeking monetary support for his cause. A famous picture at the Martinez Ybor Cigar Factory shows José Martí surrounded by adoring supporters, mostly lectors and torcedores.

 

Sometimes, the attention the lectors generated could be negative. In 1910, after a number of torcedores at the José Lovera Cigar Factory voted for the lector to read a novel with scandalous content (La Canalla by Émile Zola), dozens of female factory workers went on strike and a furious husband shot one of the torcedores in a crowded restaurant. Unfortunately, controversial readings were a trend that would lead to the downfall of the lectors. Cigarmakers Unions asked lectors to promote union membership during their daily readings, much to the chagrin of factory owners. Factory owners feared the lectors might soon promote socialist or communist ideas from their platforms. After several lectors promoted a Cigarmakers Union strike to free the arrested factory workers, the Cigar Manufacturers Association of Tampa formally banned lectors from reading in factories.

Rect. the Lector

After the lectors were banned from reading in factories, the lector platforms were replaced with radios. This indicates more the passage of time and progress of technology than the controversy of the lectors. Why pay someone a salary every week when you could have a $80.00 radio instead? The silver lining for the unemployed lectors is their vast experience in the “entertainment” industry. Many of them found work as radio performers after the lector ban. Manuel Arapicio, a former lector at the Garcia y Vega Cigar Factory, started the famous radio drama Momentos Latinos. Some former lectors, such as Victoriano Manteiga, went on to be newspapermen.

 Despite a century of proscription, the Latin communities of Ybor City fondly and vividly remember the institution of the lector. Eric, Bobby, and Drew Newman have a set vision for the renovated “El Reloj” factory. They want to enshrine forever the cigar heritage of Ybor City and Tampa. Part of this vision is the handmade cigar factory and reconstructed lector stage. America’s oldest family-owned premium cigar maker returns the lector to his rightful home.

About Holden Rasmussen

 

Holden Rasmussen is a Museum Associate at the “El Reloj” Factory Museum. His duties include conservation, collection management, gift shop sales, and docent work. He is a new college graduate who has worked and volunteered at museums and archival facilities in different parts of the country. Holden enjoys the American outdoors, French electronic music, Yugoslav militaria, Japanese comics, and Cameroon tobacco.

J.C. Newman Goes Home: Dom Cigar Shop

J.C. Newman Goes Home: Dom Cigar Shop

Starý Koronč (“Old Koronch”) Vignette

J.C.’s hometown of Koronč was absorbed by the local town Trebišov sometime in the 20th Century. However, the legacy of the Newmans lives on with the “Dom Cigar” shop in the city of Košice, Slovakia. (Pictured above). The owners of “Dom Cigar,” Miro and Maros Bajtos, are proud to have their own family business, just thirty miles from where Julius Caeser Newman was born.

Julius Caeser Newman was born in the sleepy Hungarian town of “Koronch,” Galicia (modern day Eastern Slovakia) in the Austro-Hungarian Empire on May 26, 1875. He was the son of a traveling Talmudic scholar and a tavern keeper. At his mother’s cozy brick house, guests from dozens of ethnic and religious backgrounds were entertained and treated as equals. Twenty small houses clustered around fields and pastureland comprised the village of Koronč. Julius Caeser Newman’s ancestors probably migrated to Koronč from Germany to work as teachers or mine foremen. The region was home to a people who faced famine and economic hardship with a remarkable tenacity. 

The surname Newman is an Anglicization of the Germanic “Neuemann.” Beginning in 1783, the Austro-Hungarian Empire began “integrating” various ethnic minorities with the adoption of German surnames. They literally became new men, as Jews were simply not afforded the same rights as ethnically German Roman Catholics.

Their loyalty to the Emperor during the political upheaval of 1848, however, caused a change of heart. Loyalist Rabbis encouraged Jewish men to join the national guard. As a result, the Emperor exempted them from war taxes and instead allowed them to pay into funds for specialized educational and religious institutions. Julius Caeser Newman would later attend one of these Jewish schools. Julius Caeser Newman recalls in his autobiography, “Smoke Dreams.” The chilly January mornings where he and all the other school children would express their national unity by singing the national anthem of Hungary for the Count’s wife while she smoked a cigar.  

As the son of a traveling scholar and an innkeeper, Julius Caeser Newman did not have a wide range of social mobility. Additionally, young male citizens were required to serve in the military for three years with a ten-year reserve billet.

Had he stayed in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he would have been forced to enlist and aid in the occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, then likely spend the remainder of his days as a small tenant farmer in an increasingly anti-Semitic country. And so, right after his graduation from primary school in 1889, Julius Caeser Newman immigrated to the United States, leaving behind the family brick house in Koronč, he became a new man in the United States.

This rest is history!

Dom Cigar offers premium hand rolled cigars, such as J.C. Newman Diamond Crown or Brick House, to Slovaks who just might be the descendants of weary travelers who stopped to stay at the Newman family tavern. 

Indeed, the store is dedicated to the man and features his portrait on a wall next to various J.C. Newman brand plaques! Today, the estate of County Andrássy is a cultural museum in Trebišov and the village of Koronč is intact, though still quite small; it is now a place where people have gardens, but do not reside. A few brick houses remain, built on a small creek that runs through the village, though the exact brick house of J.C.’s past is no longer there.

It only took 130 years, but with the help of Miro and Maros Bajtos, the Newmans returned to their ancestral home.