Find out more about the history of cigars with El Cigar Shop's latest article: Cigar History - From the Beginning to Now.
Cigar History - From the Beginning to Now
It’s hard to figure out precisely where cigars came from in the first place, especially as there is no definitive history of the cigar. For those of us in the modern world, it’s hard to conceive of a time when we couldn’t get our cigars online, and didn’t have access to fine tobaccos from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and other nations around South America that grow fantastic tobacco to be rolled into the best cigars available.
Like many things discovered in the new world, the cigar’s birth is best recorded in reference to the first time it was documented by an explorer from Europe. It was Christopher Columbus and his crew who first brought back tobacco leaves, as well as primitive forms of what we would today call a cigar, which was twisted in palm or plantain leaves as opposed to tobacco leaves. The first record of those primitive cigars was recorded by Columbus and his crew on the island of Cuba, where they were being smoked by the Tainos people.
In 1942, within fifty years of Columbus’ journey, smoking cigars was popular among the Conquistadors, the Spanish, The Portuguese, and the French. Through Sir Walter Raleigh the practice of smoking cigars came to the Brits, just a few years after the Italians began to practice such arts. The British, however, quickly eschewed the more flavorful but ‘vulgar’ cigar in exchange for pipe tobacco, which can still be found in any cigar shop you might wish to shop in today. Around the same time, the first tobacco crops were grown in the New World. Some leaders would decry tobacco as evil, such as Philip II of Spain and James the First of England, both of whom believed it evil on a religious basis. Around the 1540s, tobacco first gained another name, nicotine, through Jean Nicot’s extensive use and advertising, who was the French Ambassador to Portugal.
Over the next few centuries, the tobacco trade would spread throughout the developed portions of the globe. With tobacco for cigars and pipe smokers being grown in the fertile soils of the new world (in particular Cuba and Barbados) the market thrived. In fact, many slaves were sent to these two nations from all over Europe, and Barbados came to be known as Tobacco Island. But that is a story for a different time.
As the early 1800s dawned, cigar smoking was extremely common, but cigarettes were rare, and sometimes thought to be vulgar. The 19th century was still a time when ceremony was important to life, whether that ceremony was the slow packing of a bow of pipe tobacco or the precise cutting, lighting, and puffing of a cigar. Cigarettes were something deemed lesser, cheap, and tawdry. This is a reputation that seems to have persisted to the modern era.
The mid to late 19th century saw a new era of transportation possibilities opening before the citizens of Europe, and thus, people saw the chance to grow their cigars in better soils, harvest the tobacco there, and even roll them in the new world, all before shipping the cigars over. Many of the great Cuban companies began in the mid to late 1800s, including notable names like H. Upmann and Macanudo. H. Upmann was begun by a German banker, Hermann Upmann, and both the H. Upmann and Macanudo brands are still enjoyed to this day. In the late 19th century, as cigars were coming more and more into vogue with the introduction of improved blends, better tobacco, and greater tradecraft, Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem called ‘The Betrothed’, musing on the differences between his cigars and his fiancée. It ends with the idea that if his betrothed will not suffer his love for cigars, he will not suffer the presence of his betrothed.
In the early 20th century, hand rolling cigars in the United States was a big industry, with the number of cigar makers in the States booming. By 1905, it was believed that there were at least 80,000 cigar makers in the country providing the same quality cigar that you can get today via your favorite online cigar shop or local shop’s humidor, but with a much wider variety. In many of these shops, the cigars were rolled by hand for immediate purchase.
In the 1960s, after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, the US would be cut off from one of the best cigar markets with the signing of the embargo against Cuban products, including cigars, sugar, and bananas. Prior to signing the embargo, John F. Kennedy ensured that he had a good supply of his favorite H. Upmann cigars, but now getting a Cuban cigar for an American citizen requires a much more circuitous process, additional costs, and the possibility that the friendly folks who receive the parcel may inspect and seize it as it comes through customs.
The future of cigars is hard to place. It is likely that we will continue to see growth in the American market and continue to see the rise of quality products and brands from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and other nations with similar climates to Cuba. Within the next few decades I predict we will normalize trades with Cuba again, and Cuban cigars will flood into the market only for those who purchase them to realize that the reason they are so well thought of these days is due to their limited availability.
One thing is for certain: people will always look to cigars for enjoyment. Though the FDA may try to regulate them and tax them, though campaigns may continue to try and stop people from smoking, those who have a taste for the finer things in life will always be there, looking for a nice premium cigar from their local online cigar shop or local tobacconist. Therefore, the market is not likely to shrink any time soon, and that’s why we at El Cigar Shop are here to provide you with the best possible products, at the best possible prices, online, every day of the week!