From the signature accessory of gentlemen to the status symbol of popular culture, the history of cigars is long and rich. Going back to the 10th century, the Central American Mayans were the first to use tobacco rolled in a palm or a plantain leaf. This primitive cigar form was said to be so strong that it caused hallucinations. They also made tobacco beverages (I’ll have nicotine with a slice of passion fruit, please)!
Although we don’t know for sure when the cigar was invented, a pot discovered in the ancient Mayan displaying a man puffing a cigar is one of our strongest indicators. After the Mayan civilization scattered into tribes, they carried the tobacco widely into South and North America. However, it wasn’t until Christopher Columbus’s voyage in 1492 that the cigar was brought to the attention of the rest of the world.
From indigenous populations in Central America to a symbol of power and status in the smoke rooms of some of the most influential people in the world, the history of cigars is intriguing. In this article, we’ll explore some exciting cigar history facts to help you understand how this craving came to be a premium product accessed since the early 10th century. So light one up, relax, and let’s dive in!
When Were Cigars Introduced to Europe?
Columbus was soon introduced to the popular cigar habit by the local Indians, so he and his lieutenants quickly adopted it. The word cigar was given after the Mayan word for smoking, “sikar”. Specifically, Mayans used to smoke cigars during religious ceremonies.
When Columbus returned to Europe, countries like Spain and Portugal were the first to adopt cigar smoking. However, they didn’t immediately accept it, as it was considered a pagan ritual. They even imprisoned people who smoked. Eventually, they embraced it after a few years. Later on, the French ambassador in Portugal, Jean Nicot, popularized cigar smoking in France, which later gave nicotine its name.
The only difference was that Europeans were now starting to use paper to wrap dried tobacco instead of leaves. So gradually, companies started mass-producing cigars. The word Tobacco is said to be rooted in the name of a Caribbean island named Tobago, while others claim that it’s a corruption of the word Tabasco, a Mexican province.
Cigars and the Cuban Legend
Due to its warm climate and fertile land, Cuba became a popular tobacco-growing industry. When Colombus claimed Cuba as Spanish ground, cigar distribution made Spain dominant in the industry. In addition, tobacco was being distributed from Europe to Asia, and the Spanish even forced the Cubans to sell exclusively to them.
Fast forward to 1962, US President John F. Kennedy imposed an embargo on Cuba, making it illegal for US citizens to import goods from Cuba. Before that, he asked his secretary to purchase every Cuban cigar he could find. Once he stashed at least 1200 cigars, he placed the embargo in effect. A risky little game, if you ask us!
Cigar History and the Rest of the World
Cigars started exploding in the rest of the world, with the US consuming at least 300 million cigars by the 19th century. There were even “cigar cities” like Tampa, Florida, where many cigar makers migrated. In addition, the Cuban embargo forced US cigar aficionados to discover new suppliers for their passion, such as Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic.
The most recent turning point for cigar consumers was US President Barack Obama’s 2014 loosening of restrictions regarding the Cuban embargo. Specifically, he allowed American citizens to travel to Cuba and bring back Cuban cigars. Let’s see if that lasts!
Similar to the US, the cigar’s popularity spread to countries like the UK, with influential figures such as King Edward VII publicly admitting their support for the habit (we can’t blame him, really). In fact, he publicly announced a break from his mother’s, Queen Victoria’s, smoke-free policies and famously said, “Gentlemen, you may smoke”.
Another famous cigar smoker in the UK was British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. He always held a “La Aroma de Cuba” or a “Romeo y Julieta” cigar to aid his decision-making. He was reputed to stock between 3000-4000 cigars in his residence. It’s safe to say that the cigar became a must-have accessory for discerning gentlemen and a symbol of character, class, and status. In other words, a relaxing pleasure and a popular pastime only for the selected few.
The Big Cigar Boom
In 1990, the cigar industry started flourishing in the US with a decline in cigarette smoking and an increase in cigar smoking. It was the time after the recession, which basically left the wealthy wealthier and more willing than ever to spend on premium products.
For example, Dominican cigar imports increased by 18% to around 55 million cigars. The fact that more than 4000 cigar machines were introduced also increased production by at least 300% to around 8 billion cigars by the year 1920. So, despite the alcohol prohibition in effect, cigar production in the US continued to grow.
The cigar boom lasted till 1997. This period of prosperity and continuous consumption gave room for new brands to launch. At the same time, quality was often sacrificed on the altar of mass production, with cigar companies rushing the manufacturing process. Some brands even had specific cigar shapes unavailable for weeks.
Even Cuban cigars, which were lacking greatly in quality and consistency, received financial support in 2000. With the joining forces of the French and Spanish monopolies, capital investment was made in the Cuban cigar industry.
Cigar History Facts and Today
History proves that a good cigar is appreciated by kings, prime ministers, gents, and commoners throughout time. Things may change, but the craving remains the same no matter what. So, if you’re on the hunt for top-quality cigars to savor, explore our collection of premium cigars at the tips of your fingers. And don’t forget to thank a Mayan!