A History of McClelland Tobacco Company

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renfield

Preferred Member
Oct 16, 2011
695
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This was linked to in a thread in another forum, so rather than link to a link to a link here's the text.

I believe this is from 1997.
History of McClelland Tobacco Company
by Mary McNiel
THE HISTORY
To tell the true, full history of McClelland, I have to go back 30 years to

1967 when I married a pipe smoker named Carl R. Ehwa, Jr.. In 1969,

he decided his interest in pipes and tobaccos was strong enough that he

wanted to make it his career. He went to work for Fred Diebel, then and

probably now Kansas City's premier tobacconist.
With that, we embarked upon the study of pipes and the study of tobaccos.

We spent a great deal of time with Carl's grandparents, Dr. and Mrs. W.C.

McClelland. The blending bar was not yet a fixture in most tobacco shops

then, so the tobaccos we would take home to the McClellands to examine

with a magnifying glass and tweezers were the tinned tobaccos from around

the world that could be found on the Diebel shelves.
Carl called leaf dealers for examples of leaf to work with and we learned

as much as we could about grades and types. Carl developed several blends

for Diebel and Fred was so impressed that he built a small factory with

Carl in charge.
We were building quite a body of knowledge with the research we had done

and Carl decided it might make a really nice book so, in 1971, we took

every spare moment we had for the writing of "The Book of Pipes and

Tobaccos which was published by Random House/Ridge Press in 1974. We

traveled throughout the Southeast going to auctions and touring factories.

We visited pipemakers too, such as Paul Fisher in his New York City

meerschaum studio.
By 1977, Carl wanted to create his own factory and the opportunity

presented itself. So he and I and Carl's best friend since age 5, Bob

Berish, Jr., established McClelland Tobacco Company in the basement of

Carl's grandfather's home. We named the company for Dr. McClelland, a

truly wonderful gentleman, very generous and very kind. He did not live

to see the first sale but he was very much involved in all the

preparations of our debut before his death at age 87.
THE EMBLEM. Many people have asked how a land-locked company in the

heart of America came up with a whale for an emblem. Well, it was Carl's

idea to use it for the company but it came from a story in my family. My

father came to America in 1915 at the age of 17. He was a poor farm boy

who was on the adventure of his life. No English, $10 in his pocket.

Scared. The trip took a long time. Three months. At one point out in

mid-ocean they saw whales, a pod of whales very near the ship. My father

thought that was the most beautiful thing he'd every seen. Totally

unexpected. Sudden. It changed his whole attitude from one of fear to one

of eager anticipation of the next wondrous and beautiful thing awaiting

him in America.
And so Carl said, that's what we need. an emblem that will give us courage

and one that will represent the beauty of what we are trying to do and one

that will also be recognized for its rarity because the leaf we use is the

best and it isn't that plentiful. And we didn't think about it then but

I've thought since that the whale is endangered and certainly in the

anti-smoking high-tax climate that we live in we feel endangered

all the time.
THE PRODUCTS: We began with the original ten tobaccos, the five Matured

Virginias in the brown-label tins and the five Oriental (or English)

Mixtures in the green-label tins. In the beginning we used a paper

overwrap and a hot wax seal. The paper overwrap was intended to show our

commitment to tradition in our products and also to hide the fact that we

didn't have a way to open the can without a can opener. We wanted to

stick with American-made cans to be sure of our supply but our options

were somewhat limited. So much in America is geared to the large buyer.

As a small company, we have to work with what's available. It was the

early 80s before we found a pop-top lid that would work for us.
Then we expanded our line with private-label bulk blends that were

designed to be used by the pipe shops on the blending bars. We began

with Matured Virginias and Oriental Mixtures (those using the Greek and

Turkish tobaccos) and then expanded into aromatics.
RESEARCH. We do a great amount of research at McClelland but of a very

low-tech nature. It's all based on taste. We test new leaf. We modify

our processes. Tobacco is a crop. It changes all the time and we

have to change with it in order to create blends that remain essentially

the same from year to year. We taste our way along.
Back to the history. Until 1980, it had been just the three partners:

Carl, Bob and I. Then Bob, who made the most wonderful pastries on earth,

decided he wanted to be a baker and had an opportunity with an uncle, so

he left and Mike McNiel came to work with us. He had worked with Carl in

the Diebel factory early on and felt every bit as strongly about making

his career in tobacco as Carl. Things went along smoothly. The company

was growing. Then in 1982, we had a devastating loss.
Carl had taken up weight lifting and he was working out when I heard a

weird thud. I found him collapsed and unconscious. I called the

ambulance and the fire department. Mike and even his parents came over to

help. It was a burst aneurysm at the base of the brain. Carl was 36

years old. He never did come back to us. He survived but he wasn't the

same person. He wasn't interested in tobacco anymore or cooking or

photography or gardening. I can't describe it or explain it even today.

He just slipped into another world filled with imaginary characters. It

was a very difficult time and a real test for everyone at McClelland.

Luckily we had good systems in place as a result of my years at Yellow

Freight system in management development where we were taught that

managers should know each other's jobs so that in the event that

something happened to someone the business could go on.
There were five of us by then. I think the most important one of the

group was Marv Novy, our sales manager. He's 80 now and was older than

the rest of us then and provided an anchor and stability and a

shoulder to lean on in those terrible times. Our lawyer, who is the

secretary of our little corporation, was and is a wonderful asset. He

made me seek help so I could deal with the situation. With everybody's

loyal support and dedication, we survived.
The factory took over the house - the McClelland house. It was easier

financially to move us out than it. Then in 1985 the insurance company

came to learn that it was insuring a factory rather than a residence and

suggested in rather strong terms that we move it.
Since then we have been in a 100-year-old building in midtown Kansas City

in what is known as the art district. We have learned that the second

floor of our building where the offices are located was a speakeasy during

the 1920s. That seems rather appropriate. Here we are engaged in a

business that so many people would like to prohibit and we're doing it in

a building where they defied prohibition so long ago. When we moved into

this building, it seemed huge. Our little operation didn't take up much

space at all. But now we're just bursting at the seams. We expect to

move to a larger facility within the next year, or we may build on.

We're not sure.
Things went along relatively uneventfully. We kept doing research - new

products - more employees. Then I think it was in 1989 that we met Barry

Levin who had some very definite ideas about pipe tobacco. As those of

you who knew him are aware, Barry was a powerhouse of persuasion. He

would talk to Mike everyday about blends he'd like to see -

reincarnations of old products that are no more. He sent us 20 - 30 - 40

year old tins that he purchased along with his estate pipes and he would

say to Mike, "Match that if you can!" Well, it was a wonderful challenge

and a lot of fun.
That's the thing about a company the size of McClelland. We have at most,

in our busiest months, no more than 10 people. It's a nice little

family. We have fun developing new formulas. We all have our own

pipes and we gather for tastings. When it's raw leaf we're tasting-which

we have to do sometimes - that's a sacrificial ceremony dubbed "the

sacrifice of the tongue". We really enjoy working with tobacco and

making it release its flavors.
We developed a number of blends as a result of Barry Levin's requests. It

was the beginning of the creation of a whole range of special blends that

we tin exclusively for sale under other labels. With Barry we developed a

number of products that we like very much. We were so proud of them that

we let him sell them under our Personal Reserve label. We had used that

label since the beginning but in a very small way - special products for

individuals, good friends. Nothing major. Nothing really commercial.
When Barry died, Kathy tried but then realized she didn't want to deal

with the business anymore so she asked us to take them back and keep

selling them and maybe keep Barry's memory alive in that way. The

Personal Reserve blends and the Craftsbury blends are those we did under

the prodding of Barry Levin.
The next development was the cigar blends..Dominican Glory and Dominican

Glory Maduro. That was in the early 1990s. The cigar craze piqued our

curiosity. That was leaf we hadn't even thought about using, so we began

working with it. It's very difficult. It has entirely different moisture

holding characteristics from the other leaf we use. It was really a

challenge to create blends that would work in the pipe.
Then in 1992, in honor of our 15th anniversary, we developed Christmas

Cheer. We intended it as a one- time deal but it was so popular that we

realized it could be a continuing project. We skipped 1993 because

we were not prepared. We had not found the special leaf and set it aside

in time. But we've had a special Christmas Cheer every year since.
In 1993 Mike McNiel and I were married. A great deal of the time in our

lives is taken up with making tobaccos but we enjoy it. I think what

we've found in our own little way is a means to recreate that sensation

my father had at sea back in 1915 when he derived such strength from

seeing those whales. In this high-tech, rush-rush steamroller age, our

work with tobacco enables us to capture the wonder of the natural world

and make it our own.
THE CIGARS. The latest development at McClelland was the creation of our

Ballena Suprema cigars, which are made for us in Honduras and Mexico.

This project came about as the result of our investigations in cigar leaf

for the Dominican Glory blends. We worked for two years to come up with

the blends which are mild, due to the Connecticut shade wrapper, and yet

full flavored. The Hondurans, in the Danif Collection with the red

bands, are milder because of the Dominican leaf in the filler, which has a

nutty character, somewhat Burley-like. The Mexican cigars, in the San

Andres Collection with the teal bands, are fuller flavored because of the

San Andres leaf, which has a wonderful flavor curve similar in some

respects to a Matured Virginia.
FUTURE PROJECTS. We are always experimenting and we have several projects

in the works but nothing is far enough along to discuss. In whatever we

do, it is our intention to maintain our standard of excellence. The one

constant in our growing operation is quality. It was our desire to produce

tobaccos of the highest quality that brought us into this business in the

first place 20 years ago, and we believe it has been our steadfast

adherence to strict standards that has enabled us to prosper thus far.

 

d4k23

Senior Member
Mar 6, 2018
301
7
Very good read. I love when people can follow their passions in life.

 

ron123

Member
Jan 28, 2015
219
90
That was a nice background of McClelland's. Has anyone seen the write-up about Mike and Mary's post-retirement plans? A friend said he saw it on SP but I couldn't find that blog entry on their site, so I'm guessing it was a tribute that was sent out with an SP newsletter & site update...supposedly said something about Mary taking up knitting and Mike volunteering at a zoo? Anyone here have that saved, that could post it here?

 

kcghost

Preferred Member
May 6, 2011
2,420
99
And they have done quite a few things in the last twenty years that are very note worthy.

 

jvnshr

Moderator
Staff member
Sep 4, 2015
3,972
23
Baku, Azerbaijan
Great read, thanks for posting it.
That was a nice background of McClelland's. Has anyone seen the write-up about Mike and Mary's post-retirement plans? A friend said he saw it on SP but I couldn't find that blog entry on their site, so I'm guessing it was a tribute that was sent out with an SP newsletter & site update...supposedly said something about Mary taking up knitting and Mike volunteering at a zoo? Anyone here have that saved, that could post it here?
Here it is:
The future will be much different for the McNiels. Mary, who did the artwork for many of the company's tins, including the Frog Morton series, may be attending the Kansas City Art Institute in the very near future. And Mike, who loves "the so-called lower animals," will be working at the Kansas City Zoo. "It's one of my favorite places on Earth," he says. "I called them up and said, 'I'm going to work for you, and I'm going to pay you $10 an hour for the privilege.'" They accepted. It's hard to say no to Mike McNiel.
Farewell McClelland Article

 
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