As we resume regular publishing after experiencing our first Total Product Expo, the timing could not be better to celebrate National Cigar Day with all of you! Should a person hear the name Hammerstein, and also recognize it, there is a high likelihood that they’ll first think of Broadway’s Rogers & Hammerstein. What then do musicals like Oklahoma!, Carousel, The King and I, and The Sound of Music have to do with cigars? Nearly everything, depending on how one looks at it. Lifetimes before Oscar Greeley Clendenning Hammerstein II would partner up to write with Richard Rogers, Oscar’s grandfather Oscar Hammerstein I would revolutionize the process of making cigars and leave his own indelible mark on the performing arts and popular culture.
It was on February 27th, 1883 that Hammerstein’s patent for a brand new kind of rolling machine was given official approval. With the tools for mass production now refined, cigars would never be the same. As with so many of our favorite cigar related stories, however, this innovation was only a small part of it’s creator’s film-worthy journey. Decades before, forced to choose between his love of music or a life of quiet desperation a world away from his heart, young Oscar fled to the United States. Making it as far as Liverpool, in exchange for the funds necessary to make this more than three months long journey that had begun in what is modern-day Poland, he would have to take yet another leap and sell his violin to get the rest of the way.
As soon as his feet touched American soil, he sought work, and would ultimately find it at a cigar factory. While easy to believe that Oscar saw this job as a means to an end, few at the time could truly appreciate the ends to which he was truly toiling. Making quick progress, it wouldn’t be long before he became a cigar maker himself. A total of 80 cigar-centric patents would be approved in Oscar’s name throughout his life, each one a brick in the empire that he built. The means was cigars, and the end – it would turn out – was the same as it ever was: music.
Through the countless meetings and figures and memos, it was meters and notes and audiences on his mind. The passion for music that had once carried him to new shores never diminished, and as result of his appreciation for cigars, there are entire cities, industries, and generations of people that are forever altered. Not unlike the country’s cigar factories, most of the more than 10 venues Hammerstein envisioned and built in his lifetime are now home to something else. One such location is the Times Square flagship store for Gap/Old Navy, previously the site of Hammerstein’s ornate Olympia. In 2016 Playbill published a great piece when the 121 year old remains of the original theatre were uncovered during the construction of a nearby Toys R Us.
Time will always do its thing, our favorite places might eventually become toy or clothing stores. The locations and manner in which we are permitted to smoke will continue to change. What cannot be disassembled is the history forged, memories made, and cigars already enjoyed. Today, make a special effort to head out to your favorite lounge, log on to a virtual herf, or have cigar on your own, to time, to Oscar Hammerstein, and to everyone who helped him see it all through!