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Cigar giant s beginnings rooted in Licking County

NEWARK - Swisher International, America's largest cigar exporter and the company responsible for one-third of domestic cigar sales, got its start with a traveling salesman from Newark.

David Swisher received a small cigar business in 1861 as a settlement of a debt, according to the Swisher International Web site. He and his four sons peddled the cigars, among other goods, from wagons.

Swisher's sons John and Harry bought the business from their father in 1888 and formed Swisher Brothers.


By 1909, Swisher cigar factory, headquartered in Newark, was the largest in the state, according to the "Centennial History of the City of Newark and Licking County," by E.M. Brister. At that time, Swisher manufactured 300,000 cigars per day and employed 1,000 people in three cities. More than 60 brands were produced.

The company's online history states that John bought out Harry and took on his son Carl in 1913.

A letter on file at the Licking County Historical Society describes a competitive relationship between John and Harry. Sherwood Davidson House curator Charles Stricklin wrote in 1991 that Harry was enamored with the Third Street mansion John built.

"Local legend has it that John's brother Harry was so impressed with the 'mansion' that he desired to build a home exactly like his brother's," Stricklin wrote. "Harry asked John to share the blueprints with him but was refused. This angered Harry a great deal and John's refusal created a serious rift between the two brothers. Harry attempted to duplicate the building and that home he built is still standing."

Located on Hudson Avenue, Harry's home bears a strong resemblance to John's, which was torn down in the early 1990s by the Elks Club. The Elks purchased the property in 1924.

Under John's and Carl's leadership, the renamed Jno. H. Swisher and Son company continued to flourish.

"The Industrial Survey of Newark, Licking County, Ohio," compiled by the B&O railroad in 1917, reported the Newark branch employed 90 people, mostly women. The average wage for women was $10 per week, while the average wage for men was $2 to $5 per day. The report said the cigars were rolled by hand and workers were paid by the piece.

In 1917, the cigars sold for 5 cents retail, and stogies were three for 5 cents.

An anonymous employee typed up a personal account of a 47-year career working for Swisher Brothers, beginning in 1904. The author recalls being shipped between the different locations in Newark (57-59 W. Main St.), Chillicothe, Ironton and Wellston; the pressures of wartime economies; and competition from southern manufacturers such as Virginia-based Lorrillard.

"The company had been considering for some time changing to automatic machinery for maximum production. Also they had determined that is (sic) was time to do away with so many brands and concentrate on one, to make a nation-wide seller," the author wrote.

"I recall Vice President Marshall saying what the country needed was a Good 5 cent cigar. Well we had it, in King Edward and a concerted advertising and selling camaign (sic) was put on."


In 1923, the Swishers relocated their business to Jacksonville, Fla., where it is headquartered today. Production of the cigars was mechanized, and the Ohio facilities closed four years later.

The letter writer said "by the end of 1925, 30 machines were operating average production 4,000 cigars per day per machine."

In 1940, the King Edward cigar became "the world's number one cigar," according to the Swisher Web site. In 1958, Swisher Sweets debuted and in 1985, the Swisher Sweets Little Cigar followed.

Today, Swisher International exports cigars to 60 countries.

While Swisher Brothers certainly was the most famous of Newark's cigar manufacturers, it was not alone. According to city directories, there were 14 cigar manufacturers in Newark in 1903 and nine in 1910.

Web site of the Ohio Historical Society, white Ohioans began planting tobacco in the late 1700s and early 1800s. "The crop never gained the popularity among Ohio farmers as it did among farmers further south, but a commercial market did develop for Ohio-grown tobacco."

Tobacco still is grown in Ohio, largely in the southern region.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Source: New Ark Advocate

Cigar giant s beginnings rooted in Licking County