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J.C. Newman Cigar History

J. Bennett Alexander Alexander's picture

J. Bennett Alexander

When you turn 125 years old and there’s no one there to celebrate, what do you do? Well, you wait out the pandemic lockdowns and throw the party a couple of years later. That’s what J.C Newman Cigar Company did in December of 2022. J.C. Newman is the oldest cigar company in the United States, founded in 1895 by Julius Caeser Newman, a Hungarian immigrant.

The Oldest Cigar Family

The Newman family migrated to the US from Hungary in 1888. Julius, then 13 years old, was one of five children. When he arrived at immigration in Cleveland, Ohio, the officer asked Julius for his middle name. Julius had no idea what that meant. The immigration officer explained that a middle name was imperative. He gave Julius the example of “Gaius Julius Caesar,” the Roman dictator. The officer gave Julius the middle name “Caeser.” The misspelling stuck. Pleased, from then on Julius went by just the initials J.C.

J.C. began apprenticing in cigar factories, which then numbered some 300 in Cleveland. A few years later, he opened his own one-man factory, in May of 1895. That was the start of the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. In 1954, to get closer to Cuba, the source of its tobacco, the company moved to Tampa’s Ybor City, long a capital of cigar manufacturing in the US.

The J.C. Newman Cigar Factory History

The J.C. Newman cigar factory is housed in a 111-year-old red brick building known as “El Reloj” (the clock) for the prominent clock tower that can be seen hovering over Ybor City’s National Historic Landmark District. There, the company continues to roll premium, handmade cigars and ones made by “hand-operated antique cigar machines,” according to the company. This is a must-stop if you’re in the cigar district. The building has just been renovated for the 125th anniversary.

“We offer three guided factory tours every weekday along with cigar-rolling classes on Friday afternoons,” Drew Newman, J.C.’s great-grandson and the company’s general counsel, told Cigar Aficionado. “Next year [2023], we’ll be adding cigar blending classes, too.  We also host dozens of weddings and other events each year.” 

J.C. Newman’s grandsons -- Eric, president; and Bobby, executive vice president -- run the company, having taken over for their father, the legendary Stanford Newman, who passed away in 2006. Bobby likes to tell the story from an earlier era of a secret trap door and the narrow stairs underneath.

“Back in the day when the local mobsters would try to shake us down,” he explained to Cigar Aficionado. “Someone would grab the cash from the safe and run down these steps,’ he says, ducking his head under the hatch as he heads down the narrow stairwell. ‘They’d hide the cash downstairs. You didn’t want any trouble with the local mob. We only discovered this staircase recently during the renovation.’”

J.C. Newman Cigars

J.C. Newman makes cigars in its Tampa and Nicaragua factories and, in a deal with the Arturo Fuente Co., has cigars made in the Dominican Republic. J.C. Newman serves as Fuente’s sales force as a result of a deal going back more than three decades. The J.C. Newman cigars are sold in 81 nations around the world.

Perhaps the best-known J.C. Newman cigar is Cuesta-Rey, a brand the company acquired in 1958 from the Cuesta family. Try the full-bodied Cuesta Rey Centro Fino Pyramid, 6.25 by 52, about $9, made with Dominican filler and an Ecuador Sumatra wrapper. This is a cigar full of complex flavors with cedar, leather and black pepper.

Diamond Crown and the small batch Diamond Crown Julius Caeser are made by Fuente in the Dominican Republic. The latter is medium-full in flavor and carries an Ecuador Habano wrapper around Dominican and Nicaraguan fillers. This is a beautifully aged and smooth cigar with notes of coffee, cedar and spices popping through. The Robusto, 4.75 by 52, about $12, is my choice here.

J.C. Newman makes many other premium cigars, including La Unica in the Dominican Republic, and El Baton, the well-loved Brick House and Quorum in the Nicaragua factory. The inexpensive Quorum line is their top seller, and it’s available in a dark Maduro and or a Shade Grown wrapper, in addition to the original Ecuador Sumatra. J.C. Newman Cigars made in the US include very successful machine-made lines like Rigoletto and Tampa Trolleys, as well as the handmade premium The American, which is patiently crafted by skilled cigar rollers at the El Reloj factory in Ybor City.

Brick House is an old cigar brand that J.C, Newman resurrected. The cigar is of medium body with Nicaraguan fillers and a choice of Ecuador Habano or Brazilian Maduro wrappers. If you like big cigars, go for the Mighty Mighty, a 6.25-by-60 Gordo, about $8. It’s a hefty cigar that carries cedar, hickory, mesquite, leather, and pepper notes. It’s really a great bargain and has been rated 93 points by Cigar Aficionado.

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