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An Interview with Edgar M. Cullman Sr.

Chairman of the Culbro Corporation
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Bill Cosby, Autumn 94

Edgar Cullman Sr., 76, has been a tobacco man all his life. Today he is the chairman of the Culbro Corporation, which is the parent company of General Cigar. General Cigar owns and manufactures Macanudo, Partagas, Temple Hall, Ramon Allones cigars and the Garcia y Vega machine-made brand. It also owns the U.S. rights to Bolivar, Cifuentes and Cohiba cigars.

Cullman was instrumental in overseeing the transformation of his family's company from a tobacco-farming operation into one of the largest premium-cigar manufacturers in the world. He was person-ally responsible for the decision to launch the Macanudo brand and he negotiated the purchase of the Partagas brand name. Marvin R. Shanken, the editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado, sat down with Cullman in New York recently to talk about where the cigar industry has been and where it is heading.

Cigar Aficionado: Can you tell us how the Cullman family got started in the tobacco business?

Cullman: My great-grandfather, who was from Germany, dealt in tobacco there. With the great immigration of 1848, he came over here to the United States. His son, my grandfather, was born in the United States. At the age of 14 he went to work in the tobacco business buying Ohio tobacco. He was a fellow who never went to college and worked all his life. My grand-father, when he was about 20 years old, would go around selling tobacco. But he couldn't make enough money doing that so in the evenings he would play the piano; he was called "Piano Joe."

My father, who graduated from Yale in 1904, also went into the tobacco business. At that time, the tobacco business, especially the cigar tobacco business, was very respectable. My father was Joseph Cullman Jr. His father was Joseph Cullman, and my brother is Joseph Cullman III (the chairman from 1967 to 1978) of Philip Morris. Dad started in the tobacco business buying Havana seed, Connecticut broadleaf, some Cuban tobacco--actually very little--and tobacco in Wisconsin and Ohio. He also imported Sumatra tobacco from the Dutch East Indies. He would go to the auctions in Amsterdam for the wrapper tobacco from Indonesia.

C.A.: All the tobacco that your father and grandfather bought was for cigars?

Cullman: All for cigars. I forget how many...there were at least 400 cigar factories in those days. When Dad graduated from college there were more cigars sold than cigarettes. It was a business into which a great many respectable families went.

In 1906 or 1907 Dad and others started to grow tobacco in Connecticut. It was simply called Havana seed, or Cuban seed, that they brought from Havana and tried in Connecticut. It started off very slowly. Cigars were made of broadleaf wrappers, which are dark, maduro type wrappers; they still grow broadleaf wrappers today. When the shade wrapper began coming in, it was lighter, more appealing to the consumer. Then Connecticut shade began to be grown in quantities.

In the ensuing years, from 1910 or 1912 on, we continued to increase our acreage in Connecticut. And at one point there were almost 10,000 acres of wrapper tobacco growing in Connecticut. At the peak, there was 18,000 acres of all kinds of tobacco grown in Connecticut. And we became one of the large growers of wrapper along with American Sumatra, which also was a large grower of tobacco in that day.

C.A.: What was the reason that your father bought land in Connecticut rather than just buying and selling tobacco?

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Comments   2 comment(s)

Ed Harvey — Auburn, WA, United States,  —  August 31, 2011 3:19am ET

Mr, Cullman you will be missed, and it would have been interesting to see, an updated interview, since things have changed quite a bit since this one was done, along with the loss of smoking rights, and the Cigar Industry in general...

Derek Wotton — Deltona , Florida ,  —  July 21, 2013 6:56pm ET

Wow a look into the past!

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