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.
J.C. Newman now proudly displays a 116-year-old Ponce De Leon Cigar Salesmen case in our El Reloj Factory Museum.
They say a premium cigar takes three years and two-hundred hands to prepare. The development of a cigar brand requires tenfold more effort.
To a large extent, Tampa cigarmaker unions and factories were integral to setting the standards for modern cigar production.