C.A.O International, Inc. is the producer of one of the country’s top lines of premium cigars, cigar accessories, Meerschaum pipes, and pipe tobaccos. CAO’s Meerschaum pipes are smoked by presidents, senators, actors and other dignitaries. CAO was founded in 1964 by Cano A. Ozgener. Using his initials as the company logo.
Cano Ozgener’s interest in tobacco began on the banks of the Bosporus. Born on January 19, 1937, Ozgener was raised in his birthplace of Istanbul, Turkey, by his Armenian parents. His father was a jeweler, his mother a homemaker. He studied at a Jesuit French grammar school before being accepted into the American-run Roberts College in Istanbul, from which he received a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1960.
As a student in Turkey, Ozgener enjoyed smoking pipes, especially those made from meerschaum. In 1961 he graduated from Columbia University in New York. In 1961, he met a fellow Columbia student and Turkish immigrant, Esen Sever. They fell in love and married in New York City three years later.
After receiving his master's degree in 1962, Ozgener worked for two years as an assistant to Columbia engineering professor Theodore Baumeister, who was a cigar and pipe smoker, co-writing a mechanical engineering handbook. Graduating from Columbia in 1964 with a professional engineering degree, Ozgener was recruited by DuPont to work in the firm's Kinston, North Carolina, plant. It was during his stint in the textile division at the age of 27 that he came across some imperfect Turkish meerschaum pipes. In his spare time, he decided to use his engineering abilities to improve the pipes.
As Cano and the tobacconists were not happy with the quality of Turkish meerschaum, he decided to take the meerschaums and change the stems, make modifications and work with the carvers to improve them," One day a tobacconist from Wilmington, Delaware, asked him where had he found the meerschaum, that he had never seen such quality. Cano told him that he had modified them. The tobacconist then ordered a dozen or two. That was just the beginning.
Ozgener kept his engineering job as he built his company. He worked constantly; his vacations from DuPont were spent attending tobacco conventions, which left little time to relax with his wife and two young children. Finally, in 1977, he left his engineering position to devote more attention to his growing business and to spend more time with his family.
Today Cano Ozgener and his family are devoted to creating beauty with the highest quality. CAO meerschaum pipes are a testament to this devotion. Only the best block-meerschaum is shipped to CAO for carving.
The preceding article is reprinted here with the permission (forth coming) of Bennington Tobacconist
Ismet Bekler carved many meerschaum pipes, which were signed by him and sold by CAO, beginning in 1977. CAO actually trademarked his last name for use in 2001. Other carvers also provided pipes to CAO, and at least one other, Kural, also signed pipes made for CAO.
In 2008 or 2009, CAO international was purchased by Scandinavian Tobacco Group and is focusing more on cigars and pipe tobacco than pipes. Tim Ozenger, Cano's son is now president of CAO International.