Industry legend Richard Meerapfel. Every industry has legends. Some unsung heroes, some famous names. A few names that will remain in everybody’s memories forever, most will fade away over time. Some that have left us, some still alive. These legends all played their part to make the cigar industry what it is today. And they deserve to be remembered, to be recognized for their achievements. That’s why Ministry of Cigars is creating a series of articles about those legendary figures in the cigar industry.
This is a name that won’t ring a bell to many cigars smokers. Meerapfel doesn’t have a cigar bearing his name. He doesn’t own a cigar brand, nor a cigar factory. Yet, most of us enjoy the results of his hard work, his dedication, and persistence. Even though Meerapfel passes away at age 52, his legacy will live on forever. Without Richard Meerapfel, we would not be able to enjoy many great cigars. Think of the Arturo Fuente Don Carlos line, the Arturo Fuente Hemingway line, Casa Fuente, General Cigar’s Cohiba, Partagas, and many more.
What makes Meerapfel a legend in the cigar industry then? Simple, if it wasn’t Richard Meerapfel we would not be able to enjoy Cameroon tobacco. Without his dedication and determination, the tobacco growing operations in Cameroon and the Central African Republic would have been diminished. Meerapfel stepped in when the French tobacco monopoly SEITA ceased operations in Cameroon. That happened in the early 1990s. And nowadays you can say that if it isn’t Meerapfel, it isn’t Cameroon.
Tobacco traders, growers, and rollers
The Meerapfel family started in the tobacco industry as traders, growers, and rollers in 1876. Maier Meerapfel provided chewing tobacco to local mine workers in the Karlsruhe area of Germany. With the booming cigar industry, Meier Meerapfel and his son Ernest expanded the business. He became the largest importer of tobacco from Indonesia in Germany. But then the nazis came in power. The family business was confiscated, and the family fled to the United States. Heller Meerapfel, 3rd generation of the family business, started a tobacco growing business in the United States, trading tobacco and cultivating tobacco in Florida.
Heller Meerapfel then became a legend of his own. He did so by purchasing the largest and last order of Cuban tobacco before the embargo. Plus he brought back the original Heminway transcripts from Cuba to the university of Princeton. He could do that due to his connections with Che Guevara.
Richard Meerapfel, the son of Heller, grew up in tobacco. At the age of 18, he lived and worked in Cameroon for a while to learn all about Cameroon tobacco. Even though the tobacco growing operations were under the control of SEITA, the Meerapfel family was the biggest trader in Cameroon. At the age of 20, Meerapfel moved to Europe and got married. Then settled in the United States for a while before migrating to Cuba. After living, working, and learning in Cuba for several years in the early and mid-’80s, the Meerapfel moved back to Europe. Processing and trading tobacco was the focus of the company.
When SEITA left Cameroon in 1993, Meerapfel stepped in. He started a co-operation with local farmers. CETAC, or CTC, battled problems with infrastructure, rebels, corruption but succeeded. But for Meerapfel it is more than the tobacco. He said “Helping the Africans help themselves”. It is important to invest in people, to train them, and to give them the resources to build a better future for themselves and their families. The Meerapfels do so by financing schools, clinics, sports centers, and other cultural activities, clean water, and much more. And that is the motto that his sons Jeremiah and Joshua still uphold. 3000 farmers are involved in the CTC. With the average farmer team of ten, CTC is directly responsible for the life of 30.000 people in the area. The money flowing in from Europe supports over 100.000 people in the remote area of East Cameroon.
If it’s not Meerapfel ….
It’s not Cameroon. That slogan started with Richard Meerapfel. Many pretend to use Cameroon Wrapper. It is one of the rarest, most prestigious and expensive wrappers in the world. The taste is incomparable to anything else, unique, sweet, chocolaty, and coffee-like, silky, balanced, and elegant; like a Patek Philippe, Meerapfel Cameroon Wrapper is scarce and precious. Many people to try to fool the consumer by calling their wrapper Cameroon…BEWARE. If it’s not grown in Cameroon by Meerapfel, it’s not Cameroon. For over sixty years, the Meerapfel’s are improving the Meerapfel Cameroon proprietary tobacco year by year. Nobody else has access to the seeds; nor the lands on which the finest plants can be grown. Richard Meerapfel passed away on November 28, 2003. Just 8 days after his 52nd birthday. His two sons, Jeremiah and Joshua continue the legacy. But we have to pay respect to the man who singlehandedly saved the Cameroon tobacco industry. Just imagine what more he could have achieved if he stayed with us for another thirty years. But achieving what he achieved, and the legacy that he left behind makes him an industry legend. A name that should be remembered by every lover of Cameroon wrappers. Remember: IF IT’S NOT MEERAPFEL, IT’S NOT CAMEROON.
Previous articles from the Industry Legends series:
Episode 1: Don Pepin Garcia