Cigar smoking has changed so much over the last one hundred years. Many people are often surprised to learn that cigars themselves have been in existence for thousands of years, but we really don’t know much about cigars and how they were created before Columbus came upon their existence in 1492. Some interesting archeological discoveries have shown us more and given us a clue as to the true origin of the cigar.
But pinpointing the creation of cigars is still tricky, since we don’t know who exactly created the cigar, or where it came from, but many believe the Mayans were behind the creation of the cigar, thanks to a piece of ancient pottery. If you’re new to cigar smoking, then learning about its rich history can teach you a lot about how cigars came to be the popular tobacco product they are today, what makes their flavor so unique, and how they have changed for the better over thousands of years. Now, let’s learn more about the creation of the cigar and how it can to be what it is, by taking a journey through cigar history.
When Were Cigars Invented?
Cigar history has been the subject of lengthy discussions not only among smokers but history buffs as well. To this day, many people are still wondering, when was the first cigar made? Curiously enough, the answer is still unclear.
Nevertheless, while the exact cigar origin story eludes us, one thing is for sure: people have been smoking them for a long time, and they will continue to do so for even longer. Having said that, there are some theories about cigar origin and how it came to existence.
Where Were Cigars Invented- The Discovery
We don’t know for sure if cigars were invented in Central America by the Mayans, but one thing is for certain, their introduction to the world all started when a famous explorer stumbled upon their existence in 1492. It’s believed that Christopher Columbus was the first westerner to encounter tobacco, at least according to recorded history. Local Indians introduced Columbus and his men to the tobacco plant, trading the plant for other goods. Many of the men in Columbus’ crew were drawn to the tobacco and smoked it frequently on their journey home.
After this, smoking became very popular in Portugal and Spain. Jean Nicot, the French ambassador to Portugal made cigar smoking very popular in Portugal. The word nicotine is actually derived from Jean Nicot’s name. After a period of time, smoking then spread to Italy and other European nations. At this point, Spanish manufacturers had already perfected the art of wrapping the dried tobacco in a type of special paper, which made smoking the cigar easier and more refined. The cigar continued to grow in popularity, despite some important rulers of that time deeming the hobby evil.
Most European cigars were manufactured in Spain, but it was not long before the Spanish found that Cuba was the best place to grow tobacco. The climate in Cuba was perfect for growing the tobacco plant, which explains why Cuban cigars are considered some of the most famous cigars in the world.
The rest, as they say, is Cuban cigar history. Spain took full advantage of its claim to the Caribbean country, and it quickly established a firm grip on the region’s burgeoning tobacco market. In effect, the Spanish put the rest of the world on notice about the exciting new product. Spain also made one thing very clear to other countries: it wants to be the top dog in the global tobacco industry.
Spain’s growing role in the unfolding Cuban cigar history was something that other industry players did not appreciate. However, there was very little that they could do but find somewhere else to operate and hopefully grow.
When Spain tried to monopolize and dominate the industry in the beginning, many manufacturers moved to Florida, in what is now Key West. Others decided to try growing the plant in the Philippines, which was a Spanish colony at the time.
Over time, New York became a very popular cigar manufacturer destination. Over the centuries, many small manufacturers attempted to create cigars in their own homes. At one point, the state of New York attempted to ban the act, but the ban was lifted just four months later as many cigar manufacturers continued to grow in popularity.
When Did Cigars Come to America?
Any discussion about cigar history is not complete if you don’t include America, Spain, and England—aside from, of course, Cuba. Given the global political and economic climate during the time, these countries had much to gain or lose over the rapidly growing tobacco industry.
All of them had to achieve some form of success in the market to strengthen their positions in the international community. Each of them also had their own approach on how to make this happen. America, in particular, wanted to reduce its dependence on other countries by cultivating a locally-driven tobacco industry.
The 1640, the first tobacco grown in America was planted in Windsor, Connecticut. For almost three hundred years cigar and pipe tobacco rose in popularity all over Europe. In the eighteenth century, cigarettes also found their foothold in the industry.
Spain and England were always in a constant power struggle back in the day. The two countries were economic and military heavyweights at the time, so it is understandable for them to figure prominently as the Cuban cigars history continued to evolve. Back then, dominance over the tobacco industry depended heavily on who occupied Cuba, and it became a key part of their business and military tactics. Each of them had control over the country at one time or another.
England captured Havana for a total of nine months at one point. In that time, more international shipping went through Cuba, more than in the two hundred years that Spain had control of the Pearl of the Antilles. The world was then introduced to the Cuban cigar. Spain was able to finally regain control through a treaty, but the Cuban cigar secret was out and the legend of the Cuban was born. At this point in Cuban cigars history, the popularity of the Habanos has exploded.
The cigars became more popular than pipe tobacco, in England. The popular Connecticut wrapper that is well-loved in modern times all started with an English officer who resided in Hartford Connecticut, who was at the siege of Havana, returned to his home in Hartford Connecticut smuggling enough seeds that would adapt to the climate over time and produced more than thirty thousand cigars. By 1804, the demand of the Havana cigar was booming all over the world. At this time, most cigars were produced with the Connecticut binder and wrapper.
During the following one hundred years, Cuba began to slack in cigar and tobacco production behind America, which used to import their tobacco from Cuba. In 1860, America had more than fifteen hundred cigar factories. During the last fifty years of the nineteenth century, many iconic Cuban cigar brands were established including Montecristo, Hoyo de Monterrey, Sancho Panza, El Rey del Mundo, and Partagas. Additionally, popular American brands were also making an appearance, such as La Palina. However, during the time, Cuba was not considered an ideal place to conduct cigar business, since there was a constant uprising going on between the Spanish and Cuban people. The ten-year war started in 1868 and began as a rebellion lead by tobacco and sugar growers. This type of ongoing instability caused many major tobacco manufacturers to move their operations to Key West. Smaller companies soon followed, which lead to the city being referred to as Cigar City. By 1890 the number of factories in different states reached more than three thousand. Ongoing conflicts in Cuba, which includes the Spanish American war, continued to encourage cigar manufacturers to move their business to the states.
The 1920 was the biggest year for cigar production in America, even with prohibition in effect. Billions of cigars were made that year. The year before saw the first cigar rolling machine. After that, more than four thousand of these machines were in use, which is what helped to increase productivity by more than three hundred percent, compared to the sales of cigars that were made by hand. Unfortunately, the skyrocket in sales didn’t last long due to the Great Depression. As personal incomes fell, the nickel cigar became the industry standard. At this time, Americans simply couldn’t afford the more expensive Cuban cigars, which sold for thirty cents up to two dollars each.
The worst economic collapse that the industrialized world ever witnessed lasted for almost 10 years, and it was clear that the cigar industry was among the hardest hit. Even when the depression was finally over, tobacco farmers were still met with disappointing market prices.
After some negotiations between farmers and manufacturers in 1933, crop prices finally stabilized at 15.3 cents per pound, a level that all stakeholders were comfortable with. It was much better compared to the previous year’s price, which was at 11.6 cents per pound. These Cuban cigar facts might lull some people to sleep, but they are critical in the industry’s road to recovery.
There are other Cuban cigar facts that should be mentioned to give you a clearer picture of how the cigar industry in America did during this period. For instance, the government continued to implement a tobacco program that created scarcity, which drove the prices up. Business owners and politicians also worked closely with growers to drive revenues. It was not long after that the cigar industry in America finally picked up where it left off before the Great Depression.
In 1959, Fidel Castro won the revolution. One year later, the cigar industry was nationalized. The Cohiba brand cigar was founded as a cigar for VIPS. In 1962, America enforced an embargo on Cuban products, causing the country to lose its biggest market. During the next thirty years, American cigar consumption declined by a whopping two-thirds.
New cigar territories resulted as many Cuban cigar makers fled the island with seeds. The popular Montecristo brand was renamed Montecruz in its new home in the Canary Islands. Many new countries welcomed the Cuban cigar makes and saw the rise of new brands such as Hoyo de Monterrey and Partagas. However, the industry continued to struggle during the 1980s. There was no rise of new brands during this time. In fact, the business seemed to be shrinking. Since the industry wasn’t as strong as it was just five years previous, less tobacco was being grown. At the start of the 1990s, things finally started to heat up once more.
In the beginning of the 90s, America had seen a significant drop in cigarette smoking, with a boom in cigar smoking. The country was newly coming out of a recession in 1991, which happened to leave some wealthy people that much richer. These people purchased cigars. Cigars were again an indication of wealth and prominence. In 1993, the amount of Dominican cigars increased by as much as twenty percent, resulting in more than fifty-five million cigars. During this time, the Cuban cigars remained the most coveted of all cigars. The Cohiba, which was designed as a private brand only for the elite in Cuba, became available for sale to the public, outside America. Since the soviet union was in collapse, Cuba was in desperate need of money. The boom in cigar sales in the nineties lasted for a period of five years. Many new brands were created during this time, including Ashton, Fuente, and Padron.
A Major Change
The most significant and recent change for consumers occurred in 2014, with President Barack Obama loosening restrictions concerning Americans traveling to Cuba and bringing back Cuban cigars. These days, you can now purchase these cigars in countries other than Cuba and bring them into America, with limits.
These days, most of the price you pay for a cigar comes from a high tax. A premium cigar can cost around eight dollars, however, you can also purchase one for much less.
The Cigar Industry Today
Many things have changed since Columbus introduced the world to tobacco. The cigar has changed its shape, flavor, how it’s rolled, how it’s processed, where it’s rolled, and so much more. The cigar continues to evolve, with many of the premium brands producing only the purest tasting blends to hit the market.
We have learned the risks of cigar smoking, and despite these risks, the cigar still remains an important fixture of pop culture. Many celebrities, including actors, musicians, and even politicians continue to smoke, as cigars pop up every now and then on TV or in film. Many ex cigarette smokers have turned to smoking cigars, believing that it’s a better solution to smoking two packs a day, and it can be, if you know how to pace yourself, you choose premium cigars, and you allow your cigars to age in a humidor. While the cigar industry isn’t quite what it was in the nineties or back when the industry was booming in the 1920s and early 1960s, we’re continuing to see a rise in sales as many people make the switch from cigarettes to a more refined way to enjoy tobacco.
The Evolution of the Cigar
These days, you won’t find any shortage of flavors, blends, and different brands of cigars. There are a few different cigar sizes and shapes. The Parejo is the most common, which is most likely the original cigar type that was created by the Mayans. The shape consists of a simple cylinder, which is the exact shape of the modern cigarette. There are several different types of Parejo cigars including the Carlota, corona, and the toro. Some types of Parejos were named after the famous cigar smokers throughout history, such as the Lonsdale, Rothschild, and Churchill.
In the 1800s, the Figurado cigar became very popular, but it was not quite as common as it is today. The irregular shape is what made them so unique, and the production costs of this cigar made them very expensive to purchase. Some of the most popular Figurados include the Toscano, torpedo, and the presidente.
In later years, the little cigar came along. These cigars are very similar in appearance to cigarettes, however, they do not have a large tax on them like most cigarettes do these days. The little cigar has become more popular in recent years, despite the fact that they’re not traditional cigars.
Cigar Statistics and Facts
And there you have it, some of the most important events throughout the history of the cigar. The cigar may be forever changed, for the better, offering a fuller, richer taste that you’ll get from some of the major brands. You already know that being a cigar aficionado comes with many rewards. You can socially smoke with other people who enjoy cigars as much as you, and cigars have a very rich history and many important and fascinating stories, but there are some cigar facts that you may not be aware of. Some you may have not heard of, while others are pretty well-known.
- The great British wartime prime minister, Sir Winston Churchill would not fly if he wasn’t allowed to smoke his cigar on board. Because he had to fly in a non-pressurized cabin during WWII, he had to wear an oxygen mask, which prevented him from smoking. This caused the prime minister to request that a special mask be made that would allow him to smoke while still wearing it. The result was a mask that had a very small hole in it that would allow him to smoke his cigar through it.
- The phrase “close, but no cigar” Comes from a time when cigars were given as prizes for carnival games in the mid-twentieth century.
- Mark Twain claimed that smoking made him a better writer. He once wrote that to cease smoking would be the easiest thing since he had done it a thousand times. When he finally did quit smoking in 1870 when he married his wife, he found that he was not able to write for an entire year. After this year, he started smoking again and was finally able to commence writing some of the works that we still read and love today. To learn more fascinating facts about well-loved celebrities, click here to read my article on famous smokers throughout history.
- Both the Cuban exile groups and the CIA tried to kill Fidel Castro for more than fifty years. They tried placing explosive mollusks that were painted in vivid colors in one of his favorite diving spots, they even tried poison pills that were hidden in cold cream jars. Of course, their best attempt was the idea of having a New York cop give Castro an exploding cigar during his visit to the United Nations in 1960. The idea behind this method was that when the cigar exploded, the leader would feel shamed.
Some people have reported that the cigar actually had enough powder to blow the leader’s head clean off. But that never happened. Another idea in 1960 involved contaminating his favorite cigars with poison, but the box of cigars that were sent never reached him. Some Castro experts claim that there were six hundred attempts made on his life, in total.
- When Bill Clinton was president, his wife imposed a smoking ban in the White House. Of course, the president violated the ban in 1995 when an air force pilot named Scott Francis O’Grady was invited to the white house after his plane had been shot down during the Yugoslav wars. He was later rescued by US Marines. The cigars that were lit were celebratory.
- During growth, the tobacco plants used for cigars need around eight hours of sunlight every day, without fail.
- The seeds of the cigar tobacco plants are so tiny that you can fit more than one thousand of the seeds in a thimble. Just one of the plant’s flowers can hold more than three thousand seeds.
- The flavor of a cigar is due to the fermentation process. With some cigars, the tobacco is fermented a few times before it’s rolled into a cigar.
- The classic word stogie comes from Pennsylvania, from a town called Conestoga. Cigar tobacco was harvested in Lancaster County, where the wagons were also built. These wagons were what transported people west during the 1800s. The leaders of these wagon trains would smoke long cigars using rustic leaves that gave off a powerful smell. These cigars were referred to as stogies.
- The bands of cigars came from Queen Catherine the Great of Russia. She was an avid cigar smoker and wanted to avoid having her fingers smell of cigar smoke. Because of this, she created the use of a silk band on cigars, which is what she used to hold her stogie.
Cigars have evolved over the centuries, beginning as a bundle of leaves that were tied up with a string, to the premium cigars of today that are made by only the best cigar brands in the world.
On our journey through cigar history, we learned that while the Cuban cigar is by far the most popular, the cigar didn’t originate on the island. Smoking cigars first took hold elsewhere in the Americas, but exactly when or where remains a mystery. As I mentioned earlier, the ceramic pot that was discovered in Guatemala that dates back to the tenth century shows an image of a Mayan puffing on tobacco leaves that were bound by string. When Columbus first stumbled upon the Americas in 1492, he also stumbled upon tobacco.
But Cuba’s favorable climate and fertile land allowed all types of the tobacco leaves that are used in a cigar to be harvested on the island. This includes the binder, filler, and wrapper. Soon, ships would sail all over the world to distribute the tobacco from Europe to Asia. And the rest you know. Throughout the years, the flavor, aroma, and blends have changed, but through all the struggles, major recessions, and outright war, cigars have managed to survive and continue to remain popular to this day.