When Were Cigars Invented? A Brief History of Cigars
A Brief History of Cigars
Cigars seem to transcend barriers and connect people regardless of their cultural backgrounds. For centuries, people have enjoyed the experience and allure of smoking cigars. Whether it be for socialization, celebration or relaxation, there’s no doubt that smoking a cigar is an experience that’s meant to be enjoyed, slowly, embracing the present moment.
However, you may be wondering how, exactly, cigars came to be. Who invented cigars? When were cigars invented? The truth is that cigar history is just as rich as the flavor of your most beloved stogie.
The History of Cigars
While it’s not entirely clear when cigars first came into existence, a Guatemalan ceramic pot that dates back to the 10th century depicts a Mayan smoking tobacco leaves. The word “cigar” may have very well originated from “sikar,” the Mayan word for “smoking.”
Christopher Columbus was eventually introduced to the tobacco plant on his voyage to the Americas; however, tobacco didn’t really start gaining traction in Europe until the mid-16th century. Jean Nicot, the French ambassador to Portugal, is credited with popularizing cigar smoking in Europe. In fact, the word “nicotine” is derived from his surname.
During this time, tobacco became more and more popular in Europe. Spain in particular had a stronghold on the tobacco market. The country eventually discovered that Cuba, which was a Spanish colony at the time, had the perfect climate for growing tobacco, igniting the industry that still thrives on the island today.
By the 1800s, cigars had started to gain momentum in the United States, spurring a booming industry in the country. By 1905, there were roughly 80,000 cigar-making operations in the U.S. alone. Most of these were small businesses operated out of people’s homes.
Cigars were rolled by hand until the 1920s, when machines were introduced to keep up with increasing demands. Mass production seemed to be the only way to deliver the necessary supply, however hand-rolling is still practiced today and some consider it to be an art that requires preservation.
The U.S. followed in Spain’s footsteps by drawing its attention to Cuba and establishing plenty of factories in Florida to keep up with the booming Cuban cigar industry. The city of Tampa, Florida, was home to the largest cigar factory in the world at the time, and produced an output of more than 500,000,000 cigars in 1929. This extraordinary feat earned Tampa the title of “Cigar Capital of the World.”
Cigar smoking eventually took bit of a step backwards as cigarettes came into the limelight. Smaller and lighter, cigarettes were rationed to U.S. soldiers in both World Wars. Meanwhile, the majority of cigars continued to be manufactured by machine, while premium cigars known as “Clear Havanas” continued to be rolled by hand.
Cigar history was forever changed in the late 1950s, when Fidel Castro gained control of Cuba. Due to Castro’s communist regime, President John F. Kennedy signed an embargo in 1962, halting all trade with Cuba. This was considered a turning point for the cigar industry, and the U.S. began to explore other countries — such as the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Honduras — as sources of tobacco. To this day, the Cuban embargo remains in place, and the trade of Cuban cigars remains illegal.
The Scope of Cigars Today
Today, cigars remain a cultural staple that has stood the test of time. In fact, some of today’s most prominent cigar brands have endured for centuries, including El Rey del Mundo, La Palina, Partagas, and Montecristo. Hand-rolled (and typically more expensive) cigars remain a prized treasure for true aficionados, while machine-made cigars remain a staple for accessible smoking.
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