In July 1935, Alonso Menéndez purchased the Particulares Factory, makers of the popular Particulares brand and the lesser-known Byron. Immediately after its acquisition, he created a new brand named Montecristo.
The name for the brand was inspired by the Alexandre Dumas, père novel The Count of Monte Cristo, which was supposedly a very popular choice among the torcedores (cigar rollers) in their factory to have read by the lector on the rolling floor. The now-famous Montecristo logo, consisting of a triangle of six swords surrounding a fleur-de-lis, was designed by John Hunter Morris and Elkan Co. Ltd., the brand's British distributor.
In July 1936, Menéndez founded a new firm with a partner, naming it Menéndez, García y Cía. With the growing success of the Montecristo brand, the firm purchased the faltering H. Upmann Factory from J. Frankau SA in 1937 and transferred the production of Montecristo from the Particulares Factory to H. Upmann, which continued to be the home of the Montecristo brand after the Revolution. Some sources have incorrectly stated that the original name of the cigar brand was H. Upmann Montecristo Selection, but the fact that the brand was founded by Menéndez in 1935 and his firm did not acquire H. Upmann until 1937 bears out the original name of Montecristo. The original line had only five numbered sizes, with a tubed cigar added during the 1940s, but otherwise remained unchanged until after nationalization in 1960.
J. Frankau continued to be the sole distributor of the H. Upmann brand in the UK, while John Hunter Morris and Elkan Co. Ltd. was the sole distributor of Montecristo in Britain. In 1963, these firms would merge to become Hunters & Frankau, which today is the sole importer and distributor of all Cuban cigars in the UK.
Through the efforts of Alfred Dunhill (the company), the Montecristo brand became incredibly popular worldwide and to this day accounts for roughly one-quarter of Habanos SA's worldwide cigar sales, making it the most popular Cuban cigar in the world. The Montecristo brand, the factory, and all assets were nationalized by the Cuban revolutionary government of Fidel Castro on September 15, 1960.
After the Cuban Revolution, Menéndez and García fled to the Canary Islands where they re-established the brand, but were later forced to quit due to trademark disputes with Cubatabaco (later known as Habanos S.A.). In the mid-1970s, the operation was moved to La Romana in the Dominican Republic and released for the US market, since Cuban government rights to the brand were not recognized under U.S. law due to the 1960 nationalization and the subsequent embargo. Menéndez, García, y Cía is now owned by Altadis S.A., who controls its distribution and marketing in the United States.
With Menendez and Garcia gone after 1959, one of the top grade torcedores, José Manuel Gonzalez, was promoted to floor manager and proceeded to breathe new life into the brand. In the 1970s and 1980s, five new sizes were added: the A, the Especial No. 1 and 2, the Joyita, and the Petit Tubo. Three other sizes, the Montecristo No. 6, No. 7, and B, were released but subsequently discontinued, though the B can occasionally be found in very small releases each year in Cuba. Through the 1970s and 1980s, Montecristo continued to rise in popularity among cigar smokers, becoming one of Cuba's top selling cigar lines.