In 2010, General Cigar will celebrate its 50th anniversary. This remarkable milestone comes fast on the heels of its most iconic brand, Macanudo, marking its 40th birthday. It’s an exciting time for everyone involved in building this legendary organization, from the rollers who craft its portfolio of cigars to the executives at parent company Swedish Match, and an opportunity to reflect on General Cigar’s remarkable history.
That history is a rich and colorful one, filled with people passionate about cigars. It begins with the Cullman family; specifically, Ferdinand Kullman, a wine merchant who immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1848. After anglicizing his name to Cullman, Ferdinand not only continued his wine business, but also expanded into making and selling cigars. The rest, as they say, is history.
Ferdinand’s son Joseph Cullman went to work as a tobacco merchant. In 1904, Joseph Cullman’s son Joseph Junior followed suit by joining in the family’s tobacco business. In fact, he’s the one credited with developing Connecticut Shade tobacco from Cuban seed, a leaf that wraps much of General Cigar’s portfolio to this day.
Soon, it was time for another generation of Cullmans to follow the family tradition. In 1944, after returning from Washington and a stint with the U.S. Treasury, Edgar Cullman, Sr. decided he wanted to work at Cullman Brothers, his father’s tobacco business. His father soon insisted that he learn how to roll cigars and cultivate tobacco.
Meanwhile the company grew and prospered, selling sought-after tobacco to cigar makers. Yet Edgar Cullman also wanted to use the fine tobacco he grew. So he looked around for a cigar company to buy.
In 1960, the opportunity arose to purchase General Cigar Company, then the producer of White Owl, William Penn,
Van Dyck and Robert Burns brands of cigars. Edgar Cullman seized the opportunity and made the buy.
In 1968, General Cigar purchased Temple Hall, a cigar producing facility in Jamaica, and its brand Macanudo. Although now the number-one selling premium brand in the United States, at that time only small quantities had been produced for the British market. To broach the U.S. market required much greater numbers of cigars, all made with meticulous attention to quality and consistency. The blend would have to be different, too.
To meet that goal, in 1968, General Cigar began development of Macanudo, under the careful eye of cigar master Ramón Cifuentes, an expert whose love of tobacco was unmatched. Finally introduced into the U.S. in 1971, the cigar featured a new and unique blend of tobacco grown by the company. It also set General Cigar’s trajectory toward industry success in motion.
Cifuentes, a Cuban who hails from an established tobacco family, remains credited with instilling his exacting standards for tobacco processing and cigar-making techniques in General Cigar’s generations of skilled artisans.
As popular as the Macanudo brand is, its cigars are still hand-rolled one-by-one. The brand’s signature rounded crown – a hallmark of Macanudo – is a hallmark of every single cigar crafted in General Cigar’s cigar-making facilities in Santiago, Dominican Republic.
Another event in the mid-1970’s propelled General Cigar to the pinnacle of the premium cigar business: the purchase of the U.S. rights to Partagas cigars from the Ramon Cifuentes’ family, who had made the legendary brand in Cuba until Castro took over. Ramón Cifuentes was elated at the chance to re-establish the Partagas brand in the U.S., and his efforts helped secure a place for Partagas in U.S. premium cigar history.
In 1974, General Cigar began cultivating another cigar master in Angel Daniel Núñez, who became Cifuentes’s protégé. With his extraordinary mastery of tobacco, Núñez went on to become president and chief operating officer of General Cigar in 2005. Since his retirement in 2009, Núñez has served as Executive Advisor to the company.
With Macanudo and Partagas firmly secured, General Cigar continued to strategically add to its portfolio. In 1981, General Cigar received its first registration of the Cohiba trademark in the United States.
Since 1992, General Cigar has been actively assisting more than 6,000 employees in the Dominican Republic and Honduras. The company underwrites a number of corporate citizenship endeavors in these countries: not only continuing education and literacy programs, but also the cultivation of fruit, vegetables, dairy and meat that is then sold at cost to company employees. On top of that, General Cigar funds local schools by providing electricity and computers, and supports the environment with a dedicated reforestation program that cultivates mahogany and cedar trees to replenish the wood used in making the company’s cigar boxes.
In 1996, General Cigar opened the nation’s premier bar, restaurant and cigar lounge: Club Macanudo in New York City. The Club continues to welcome A-list celebrities, athletes and cigar lovers alike, and remains a mainstay of New York’s nightlife.
With the company already boasting significant imported brands such as Macanudo, Partagas and Cohiba in its portfolio, it was a logical progression for General Cigar to acquire the leading Honduran cigar-maker, Villazon & Company. The deal went through in 1997, and with it, the renowned brands Punch, Hoyo de Monterrey and Hoyo de Monterrey Excalibur joined the portfolio.
In 1999, General Cigar sold its mass-market cigar business to Swedish Match AB. At that time, Dan Carr—then General Cigar’s vice president of sales—joined Swedish Match to continue growing the brands he had been cultivating since 1996. In 1999, Swedish Match AB also purchased both the La Gloria Cubana brand and the El Credito factory in Miami, FL, bringing both under the aegis of General Cigar Co.
In 2005, Swedish Match acquired General Cigar as a wholly owned subsidiary. To this day, the General Cigar continues to prosper, and its rollers and blenders remain passionately committed to crafting some of the world’s most desirable handcrafted cigars.
In October of 2007, Dan Carr returned to his roots as General Cigar’s senior vice president of sales and marketing.
Soon after that, Carr’s passion and commitment to driving the business led to his appointment as Chief Operating Officer of General Cigar in April 2009.
Today, under Carr’s direction and in concert with a team of professionals and artisans in the United States, Dominican Republic and Honduras, the future of General Cigar burns bright. The company continues to lead the industry as the largest manufacturer and marketer of premium imported cigars. Never resting on its laurels, General Cigar prides itself on bringing innovation to a timeless art, introducing acclaimed cigars crafted from exceptional, and often proprietary, tobacco.