The History of Cigars

Everybody knows that Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas, but do you know that he also discovered cigars? Or that Tampa, Florida was once the cigar capital of the world? Read on and learn all about the history of cigars.

Just as he did not create America, Columbus did not invent nor create cigars, either. Although it is not exactly certain where cigar smoking first took place in the Americas, a ceramic pot discovered in Guatemala depicts a Mayan puffing on tobacco leaves bound up with string. When Columbus happened upon the Americas in 1492, he also discovered tobacco which the local natives smoked in cylindrical bundles of twisted tobacco leaves wrapped in dried palm or corn husks.

Columbus packed up some of his newly discovered tobacco and returned to Spain, where the Spaniards perfected the methods of making cigars and pipes. Cuba’s fertile land and favorable climate allowed all three types of tobacco leaves used in a cigar to be harvested on the island, and Spanish ships were soon distributing Cuban tobacco from Europe to Asia. Columbus had claimed Cuba for Spain, and the Spanish mandated in the 17th century that all tobacco for export be registered in Seville; they later tightened their hold on the market by forbidding Cuban growers to sell tobacco crops to anyone but them — a monopoly that continued until 1817.

By that time, the custom of smoking tobacco had spread throughout Europe, and eventually throughout the world. In 1887, an Irish furniture maker named Terence Manning visited South Africa where he learned about fine woods and crafting techniques. The Manning family of Ireland is deemed the inventors and distributors of the earliest cigar humidors.

The U.S. had consumed nearly 300 million cigars by the mid-19th century, and many Cuban cigar-makers migrated to nearby Florida, where Tampa became known as the cigar capital of the world by the early 20th century. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy authorized a trade embargo with Cuba, and Cuban products were no longer legally available to United States citizens. It is said that prior to the embargo he instructed his press secretary to acquire as many of his favorite Cuban cigars as he could find. The embargo with Cuba still remains in effect, and Americans are no longer able to legally obtain Cuban cigars.

After years of sluggish sales, the 1990s saw a boom in cigar sales. Cigars were now becoming stylish, as portrayed by celebrities and the media, and an episode of Seinfeld even centered around a box of Cuban cigars.  Between 2000 and 2004, cigar consumption in the United States rose by more than 28%, and cigar smoking continues to be enjoyed by many as an affordable luxury.

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