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A History of McClelland Tobacco Company

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  • Started 1 year ago by renfield
  • Latest reply from briarbuda48
  1. renfield

    renfield

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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.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  2. civilwar

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    Thanks for the post

    Posted 1 year ago #
  3. chasingembers

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    Now that was a great post, thank you!

    Damnation seize my soul if I give you quarters, or take any from you.
    -Edward Teach
    Posted 1 year ago #
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    oldgeezersmoker

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    Great read.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  5. d4k23

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    Very good read. I love when people can follow their passions in life.

    Posted 1 year ago #
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    oldgeezersmoker

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    And it is very nice that she gave a lot of credit to Barry Levin.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  7. ron123

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    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?

    Posted 1 year ago #
  8. lightmybriar

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    Great read! Thanks for posting!

    On a pipe adventure
    Steve
    Posted 1 year ago #
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    jackets

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    Fantastic read. Has anyone ever seen or tried one of their cigars?

    Posted 1 year ago #
  10. sablebrush52

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    Mary taking up knitting and Mike volunteering at a zoo?

    I think it said that Mary McNeil was going to be taking art classes.

    It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt. - Mark Twain

    It is pointless to argue with a fanatic since a dim bulb can't be converted into a searchlight. - Jesse Silver
    Posted 1 year ago #
  11. kcghost

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    And they have done quite a few things in the last twenty years that are very note worthy.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  12. jvnshr

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    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

    Javan
    Posted 1 year ago #
  13. mikethompson

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    Mr. McNiel poses with a new charge, Kansas City Zoo, June 2018.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  14. mawnansmiff

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    What an excellent story which I read while enjoying a bowl of their wonderful #2015 VaPer Flake.

    Regards,

    Jay.

    ...take up thy stethoscope and walk...
    Posted 1 year ago #
  15. woopigpiper

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    What an incredible story. You can't help but love those people.

    WooPigPiper
    u/feernot
    Posted 1 year ago #
  16. crashthegrey

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    It's a bit bittersweet to read this. Those are some amazing people.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  17. pipesticks

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    Fantastic read and thanks for reposting this

    Posted 1 year ago #
  18. skeeter456

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    Good read

    Posted 1 year ago #
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    davidintexas

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    Thoroughly enjoyed this. Thanks for posting

    Posted 1 year ago #
  20. cosmicfolklore

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    Excellent read. Thanks for posting this.

    Michael
    Posted 1 year ago #
  21. tabriar

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    So glad to read this. Bittersweet. I hope this is saved/published on other sites in case we ever have database issues here. I would have paid a good amount to be able to tour their “little” factory.

    Posted 1 year ago #
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    derekflint

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    Mr. McNiel poses with a new charge, Kansas City Zoo, June 2018.

    Time Machine ?

    Posted 1 year ago #
  23. hoosierpipeguy

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    Great story, I enjoyed reading it. Amazing people. Thanks for posting it.

    Posted 1 year ago #
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    derekflint

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    Good read......

    Posted 1 year ago #
  25. jpmcwjr

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    Excellent read. Thanks for posting the article and the followups.

    I know that you believe you understood what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.
    Posted 1 year ago #
  26. 9mmpuffer

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    Great read, thanks for sharing.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  27. jvnshr

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    What happened to Carl? Did he pass away?

    Unfortunately yes, at the age of 50.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  28. ron123

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    I think it said that Mary McNeil was going to be taking art classes.

    Thanks, sablebrush52. You're right.

    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

    Thanks, jvnshr. That's it. Great read!

    Posted 1 year ago #
  29. renfield

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    Classy, talented, hard-working people making a great product and calling it quits on their own terms after nearly a half century of excellence and success. You gotta respect that.

    So in what part of the zoo will Mike be on display?

    Posted 1 year ago #
  30. wyfbane

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    What a wonderful story. You can tell they enjoyed their time with the company. I wish them that same joy in their future endeavors!

    Posted 1 year ago #
  31. jvnshr

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    Here is a picture of them with Brian Levine

    Brian Levine (seated), Mike & Mary McNiel at the 2012 Kansas City Pipe Show

    Original Post

    Posted 1 year ago #
  32. madox07

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    Thanks for the post, guy. Finally in all the McClleland craze, some educational material

    Sea Wolf Pipers

    "Like the mariners of old, a loner is acceptable but a pipe is best enjoyed in a pack"
    Posted 1 year ago #
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    briarbuda48

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    Thank you for posting. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Posted 1 year ago #

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