Herrmann & John Fendrich

La Fendrich & Charles Denby

A Cigar History Museum Exclusive 

© Tony Hyman, All rights reserved

Uploaded  July 12, 2012 


        The Diamond Joe Cigar Company, better known as “La Fendrich” or, more correctly, “H. Fendrich,” has its roots in 1833 when the Fendrich family comprised of mom, dad, and four sons immigrated to the United States from the Margraviate (principality) of Baden in the remains of the Holy Roman Empire (today’s Germany). The family settled in Baltimore, and soon added a fifth son, John, to the four older boys, Joseph, Charles, Francis and Herrmann.

       They came to this country at a time of dynamic growth. During the 2nd quarter  of the 19th Century, half the population of the country moved west across the Appalachians and Smokeys. The telegraph made long distance communication possible. Steamboats made river travel faster and more comfortable. The Erie and other canals were completed allowing efficient movement of goods from the midwest to the east coast or south to New Orleans.  Railroads were being completed  everywhere.

Steamboat landing on the Ohio River, Evansville, Indiana.


            In the mid-1840s the four older brothers decided to learn the tobacco and cigar business by apprenticing themselves to leaf dealers, cigar makers, and wholesalers in the Baltimore area.  Why they chose this trade is not clear, but the Germanic principalities from whence they came had a history of cigar making. The ever-increasing popularity of Cuban cigars and the development of the first quality cigar tobacco in North America in the late 1830s all may also have played a role in their decision. Too, Baltimore was among the top cigar centers in the U.S. at that time.



As part of their education, the brothers drove horse-drawn wagons from town-to-town, paying close attention to the wants of their customers. This tintype is believed to portray Hermann’s last sales trip from Baltimore.                               [21533]

        By 1850 the five brothers, now including mid-teen John, felt their education had
progressed to the point they could open their own tobacco, snuff and cigar factory. Located at 155 Forrest St. in Baltimore, the factory’s main product was plug tobacco molded from Kentucky leaf. After a few years, to be closer to their leaf supply, they uprooted and joined the swell of people moving West. In 1855, the 1st of Fendrich’s Western operations began in the recently incorporated city of Evansville, Indiana, when they opened a retail and wholesale store situated a block from the Ohio river. Evansville was chosen because it was a thriving river port with excellent facilities for shipping to New Orleans and the world.

        An 1860 business directory locates “Francis Fendrich & Bros.” at 21 Main St. (between 1st and 2nd) in Evansville. All five brothers are listed as part of the company, but not all were in residence. Hermann, living in a local hotel, was  involved in day-to-day operation of the store; John was in Columbia, Pennsylvania, where the first Fendrich cigars were being made; Joseph still lived in Baltimore, but details are unknown, as are the residences and roles, of Charles and Francis.

    The first popular brand of Fendrich cigars was FIVE BROTHERS, originally made in Pennsylvania. Production of those and other cigars was transferred to Evansville as soon as their building could be refurbished and the necessary equipment installed. It is not known how long the brand was produced.


        The original company name, “Francis Fendrich and Brothers,” was changed after

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the three oldest brothers retired in the 1880s, leaving ownership of the business to the second youngest, Herrmann. The company name became “Herrmann Fendrich, successor to Fendrich Brothers” and remained that on company letterhead until his death in 1889. Soon thereafter the company name became “H. Fendrich.”  After Hermann’s death, LA FENDRICH cigars, with his bearded portrait on the label, were introduced, and became the company’s lead brand.
        When Hermann died, the company presidency passed to his only son, John, a Notre Dame graduate. John proved to be an able leader with a hands-on style, working closely with employees to develop new techniques for tobacco sweating and blending to maintain uniformity as their volume expanded. John was still in charge of the company in 1950 when the firm celebrated its 100th anniversary.
     John had a natural flair for aggressive salesmanship and under his leadership
company warehouses were established throughout the tobacco regions of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin. Most important for today’s collectors, the handful of brands of the 19th century became dozens, as the company delved deeply into the business of manufacturing “private label” cigars for wholesalers and retailers throughout the
country. The known list of brands is extensive but may include less than one-third of their total.
        A Fendrich company history published in 1950 commented on the profusion of labels under which the company marketed cigars: “And so Fendrich brands set out to satisfy all tastes and whims -- not only in the matter of the cigars
themselves, but even in their brand names and the artistic appeal in their ornate label designs…” 
        This interpretation may not be entirely accurate. Cigar factories that created dozens of  “custom brands” generally kept their tried and true blends constant, changing only the name and  label to  suit the customer. Sellers desiring a “house” or “custom” brand selected a particular
manufacturer (out of 10,000+ available) because they liked the taste and appearance of their cigars, and usually wanted few, if any, changes. Minor changes like wrapper color, dipping the  cigar’s head in a sweetening agent or spraying the blend with various flavorings made for the easiest changes. Fendrich’s profusion of brands were most likely a combination of custom
blends for some, minor tinkering like described above for other customers and packing their standard brands under a custom label for yet others. How many of the brands and labels were actually created by the H. Fendrich company itself is not recorded.

    A new blend sold as CHARLES DENBY became a member of the basic product line in 1902, joining DIAMOND JOE and LA FENDRICH. The brand was named after the former U.S. minister to China, a personal friend.

    “Denby” was the first Fendrich brand to be packed in tin “lunchboxes” as well as wooden boxes. LA FENDRICH was often sold in a slip-top tin holding 10 cigars after that size box became legal in 1910.

        The popularity of Fendrich
brands dictated a major expansion of the factory, which was moved to a larger building a block down main street from the original store. Five floors meant generous office space and a
good size storage area. To take advantage of the new factory size, the company hired and trained hundreds of women in the use of suction tables, bunch breakers and moulds. This was a smart business move, cutting salary and production costs while doubling output. Fendrich became the largest of Indiana’s 600+ factories.

   The new factory was called “The Diamond Joe” factory thanks to a huge mural of the Diamond Joe label painted on  the top two floors. The building is here decked out for a 1909 Elks parade. 

Production reached a 100,000 cigars a day.

       Things were going great for the booming company. Great, that is, until December 1910 when the new factory burned to the ground, destroying ten neighboring business and a private home in the process.

        No employees perished, but there was a total loss of equipment and stock on hand. Some less resolute, less ambitious, men might have retired, but Herrmann’s son John was determined to rebuild, starting fresh with a new building of his own design.

            The new factory, opened in 1912, consisted of wings adjacent to open court yards in front and back, maximizing natural light for rollers and packers, and allowing
for an adjoining symmetrical series of warehouses under one roof, with all the latest equipment and  design. The 192,000 square foot structure included a cafeteria, first aid, showers and a recreation area.  The 40 employees John took charge of in the late 1880s became 250 by the turn-of-the-century and 1,500 by World War One.

Strippers -- traditionally women -- who remove the mid rib from a tobacco leaf and sort the leaves into piles of right and left hand leaves. Formerly hand work, Previously performed by hand in the stripper’s lap, machines made it easier, faster and left the leaves in better condition.

       Modifications were made, most notably when machines took over cigar production during the 1920s, but the basic design and layout of the various departments served the company well for the next half century.

       In the 1880’s when work was done under gas lights, a three-girl team using wooden moulds turned out 1,000 cigars a day. In the new factory, once machines were installed, four girls working one machine turned out 4,400 perfect cigars each ten-hour shift. In keeping with the times white and “colored” cigar makers worked in separate buildings. No mention was made in contemporary news stories about how other facilities were shared.

        With the new building came a new
philosophy, one based on brand concentration and mass marketing. The period immediately before and after WWI saw the number of brands reduced substantially. Advertising and production focussed on LA FENDRICH, CHARLES DENBY, and DIAMOND JOE, though orders of other brands, such as CASA NOVA and EL PAXO remained possible intermittently through the Great Depression and into

Since the 1920s, the company has advertised special boxing and banding for special events.

the 1950s. In subsequent years, two more “focus brands” were added: BLACK HAWK,  the popular Connecticut broadleaf cigar brand originated by Andy Dehner in Burlington, Iowa) and LITTLE FENDRICH (a panetela aimed at younger smokers). Newspaper and point-of-sale advertising was expanded.

A Negro bellhop became the spokesman for CHARLES DENBY cigars and was seen everywhere in news paper ads, signs and store standees from counter size to larger than life-size.


        Keeping it all in the family, Herrmann’s grandson, Daniel F. McCarthy, went to work in the family plant in 1917. Two years later he became Secretary-Treasurer and in 1930, upon retirement of the plant’s general manager, he took over that position as well, and began seeking ways to lower production costs to help offset the price reductions needed to  maintain brand
loyalty through hard times.  In 1931, with the Depression in force, most major cigar companies began dropping prices. Fendrich lowered CHARLES DENBY from 8¢ to 5¢.  By the end of the decade, the 10¢ LA FENDRICH also sold for a nickel. For reasons unrecorded, the JOHN JENNINGS brand was briefly reintroduced in 1931.
During WWII, the War Dept. called on Fendrich to join Bayuk and others in supplying cigars to the Armed forces. Tens of millions of Fendrich-made cigars, approximately 30% of production, were packed in special wooden cases with waterproof liners designed for dropping during bad weather or for floating ashore to troops on remote Pacific islands with no harbor facilities. The Fendrich machine shop was also converted to production of precision parts for the local war industry. Their patriotic contribution was touted on billboards and ads were sent to newspapers around the country explaining the shortage of Fendrich-made cigars. During the War, in 1943, Daniel McCarthy became Executive Vice-President.

        Five years after the War, the company celebrated an event shared by only a handful of cigar companies worldwide, a Centennial...
a full 100 years in business. At that time, President John H. Fendrich, himself with 65 years with the company, gave jeweled wrist watches and $500 bonus checks to three employees who had 50 years with the firm. Longevity was a company hallmark as 110 employees had 25 years of service, and 400 had been with the company more than ten.

Executive VP, Daniel McCarthy presents a watch and a check to Carrie Eberlin, one of three 50 year employees.

        A few years later, H. Fendrich became part of Parodi Cigar Corporation of Scranton, PA, who no longer lists Fendrich brands in it’s catalog.


        At one time or another, H. Fendrich made the following cigar brands:

La FendrichCharles Denby, Diamond JoeLittle Fendrich, Smoke Dreams, Red Ruby, John Jenning, Lady Carmen, Mrs. Fiske, El Cuto, Five Brothers, Little Gun, Casa Nova, Globe-Democrat, Courier Journal, La Cubavana, Aaron Burr, Black Hawk, White Slave, Lone Jack, Plantation, Bankers Choice, Tampa Cubs, Cuterine, All the Go, Ben Davis, Big Heart, Burro,

CO-BA, Cranes Londres, El Paxo, General Movey, Craps, Cuban Buds,

Della Concha, Diamond Eye, Harvey, Durand & Kasper Co’s 1851, F.C.A., Germania Club, Governor Bagley, Hauptmann’s, Hulmanita, Havana Judge, Kilheiifers, La Memoria, The Fad, Levor’s 77, Oakford & Fahnestock’s,

Our Monogram, P. & G. Handmade, Ragland’s Extra, Royal, Royal Brand, Spanish Chief, Pasco, The Angelus, The News and others. 

Red indicates boxes owned by the NCHM.

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