Everything would be okay, R.O. Brandenberg assured the no doubt nervous employees of Lima’s Odin Cigar factory on March 3, 1929.
“Rumors afloat in Lima Saturday that the Odin Cigar Co. is planning to move the Lima plant to Detroit are unfounded according to a telegram received Saturday from R.O. Brandenberg, of Detroit, president of the company,” The Lima News reported. Brandenburg, once an employee of Lima’s DWG cigar company, “said he was surprised at the report and explained that a shutdown was ordered for a two-week period to enable the company to formulate plans for an expansion program. …The plant will reopen within two weeks with its entire force of between 500 and 600 employees.”
The rumors about the move were untrue, but so were the assertions the plant would expand and reopen.
On March 9, 1929, a week after Brandenberg’s reassuring telegram, the News reported: “The entire production of Odin cigars will be handled by the plants of Deisel-Wemmer-Gilbert (DWG) Corp., according to information given to The Lima News Saturday by R.O. Brandenberg.”
The Odin Cigar company had been a part of Lima’s business landscape since 1919 when Benjamin and Max Lubetsky, of Detroit, with the aid of Lima’s Charles D. O’Connell, set up shop on South Main Street. The Lubetsky brothers came to the U.S. from Russia with their parents and two other siblings in 1881. They operated cigar factories in Grand Rapids and Ludington, Mich. O’Connell, according to a History of Allen County, was 2 years old when he came to Lima from Lansing, Mich., with his family in the late 1880s. As a teen he worked at Deisel-Wemmer (Gilbert would come later) and learned the trade of cigar maker, eventually becoming a superintendent at DW factories in Sidney and Toledo.
The Lubetsky brothers arrived in Lima toward the end of the golden age of cigars in the United States. In 1915, the peak year of cigar manufacturing in the U.S., there were 15,732 cigar manufacturers, according to the Cigar History Museum. The legendary “smoke-filled room” where political deals were cut — according to the online Encyclopedia of Chicago it was the Blackstone Hotel where powerful Republicans arranged Warren G. Harding’s 1920 nomination — was filled with cigar smoke.
Lima had had a good cigar since 1884 when German immigrant Henry Deisel and his wife began hand-rolling cigars in his house. Deisel called them “Henry’s Best” and they were apparently good enough that Deisel had to hire 10 men to help him keep up with demand. In 1888, Deisel’s growing work force went on strike and he was forced to bring in partners, brothers Henry and William Wemmer, to deal with the effects of the strike. The now Deisel-Wemmer cigar company was burned out of or outgrew several locations over the next decade before moving into a new building on North Main Street near the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks at the turn of the century.
Ironically, although cigars were, with the exception of the occasional Bonnie Parker or some other bad girl, almost exclusively identified with men, the majority of workers making them were women, particularly before cigar rolling machines came into wide use around 1920. “The dexterity and delicacy of touch of the female hand have marked its owner as specially fit for the craft of cigar-rolling,” an article in the May 14, 1887, edition of the St. Paul Daily Globe explained.
And it was women the Lubetsky brothers operation sought when they began advertising for help. “Wanted — female help — cigar rollers, bunch breakers, benders and stemmers — also beginners to learn the trade — 692 S. Main St,” an August 1919 ad in the Lima Times-Democrat read. In an October 1919 ad in The Lima News, the firm sought “experienced filler strippers — elderly women preferred.” And, in an October 1922 ad in the News, the company promised “cigar rollers and bunch makers” could earn $4 daily and over” working from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. “Working conditions are most pleasant.”
In addition to the 692 S. Main St. site, the Lubetsky Brothers also operated at 310 E. Market St. By 1927, the operation had outgrown these facilities and a new plant was erected on the northeast corner of North Central and East North streets. The new Odin plant employed 600 and produced 35 million cigars per year.
A year later, the Lubetsky brothers, who had never lived in Lima, sold the Odin operation. “An avenue of expansion of the Odin Cigar factory is seen in the reorganization of the company July 1 when the Lima plant will be taken over by a syndicate headed by Grand Rapids and Detroit banker, it was indicated Saturday,” the June 24 1928 edition of The Lima News reported. Max Lubetsky, the article added, sold the plant “primarily through the desire of himself and his brother to be relieved of the active operation of the business, which they established here nine years ago.”
Brandenberg predicted “early expansion of the plant” in a June 29, 1928, story in The Lima News. Talk of expansion would continue until the sale to DWG in March 1929.
S.T. Gilbert, who had earlier in the year merged his Gilbert Cigar plant with Deisel-Wemmer, told The Lima News on March 10, 1929, that “for the present, the Odin Cigar factory in Lima will remain idle. Some of the former Odin employees will undoubtedly go on the payroll of our company. I regret that we cannot see our way clear to engage all of them at this time.”
On July 6, 1930, the News reported there were no bidders for the Odin Cigar plant, which was appraised at $75,000. A glimmer of hope came in October 1932 when O’Connell, who was identified as “instrumental” in bringing Odin to Lima, said the Masterpiece Cigar Co., of Grand Rapids, Mich., was interested in “taking over the old Odin cigar factory in Lima.” Nothing came of it. O’Connell would go on to run taverns and clothing stores and become active in politics as a Democrat.
The Odin plant became a Works Progress Administration sewing center during the Great Depression, employing women who “have been provided the opportunity of doing many things for their family in the way of needlecraft and the operation has aided materially in balancing the family budget,” the News reported in January 1936. Today, the Odin name survives on the front of the building at North and Central.
DWG, which at its peak ran 17 plants and employed 4,000 people, broke up in the mid-1960s. In 1967, a local group purchased a portion of the former cigar business. The RG Dun Corp moved back to the old North Main Street plant. In 1990, the RG Dun plant closed. DWG Corp. lived on without the cigars. Wendy’s Company, the principle franchiser of Wendy’s restaurants, traces its corporate roots back to DWG.