The History of Cigars and Information You Probably Didn’t Know

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Cigarettes are made of low-grade tobacco and cheaper than cigars, which are composed only of tobacco. 

Premium cigars are a hand-made product, with 100 percent natural, fermented tobacco. They’re manufactured under strict quality control, unlike traditional cigarettes. People associate cigar smokers with being richer and of a higher social class. Let’s take a look at the history of cigars and some interesting facts about the industry.


The Basics of the History of Cigars

The history of cigars, as with most things in life, is not clear cut. Even still, we've broken down what we do know about the recorded history about when and where they originated.

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Credit: Wikimedia

When Did Cigars Originate?

The history of cigars is interesting. The term ‘cigar’ dates back to 1730 and differs from the representation we have of them today. During the early 18th century, cigars comprised of filler, binder, and wrapper and were highly popular in Spain. In fact, the production really took off in Spain.

During 1818, the King of Spain declared free trade and the most famous cigar brands introduced themselves during this period. Specifically, Punch formed in 1840. Hoyo de Monterrey, another famous brand, saw its establishment in 1865 by a young immigrant from Spain.  

Cigar smoking was common and cigar factories were everywhere. They were the most popular tobacco product in America at the time, and every city had at least one cigar factory. However, they were not large organisations, and often, one person sat in a room producing the cigars.

Where Did Cigars Originate?

There’s tremendous speculation over the history of cigars and where they originated. Two sailors from Columbus’ epic voyage reported that Cuban Indians smoked a form of cigar. This consisted of dried tobacco leaves rolled in other leaves. This quickly spread to Spanish and European sailors, who created a habit out of it. This trend continued to Spain, Portugal and then France. Since the, cigars have become a worldwide hobby of enthusiasts.


Demand and Evolution of Perceptions in the History of Cigars

As cigar smoking spread around the world, an increase of demand followed. Let's trace how this began and then look at how perceptions of cigar smoking changed through time.

How Did The Demand For Cigars Happen?

As the trend caught on in Europe, there became a huge demand for quality cigars. During the 18th century, cigar production started in Cuba, which was a Spanish colony. European smokers found that cigars were easier to transport than tobacco.

Israel Putnam, an American general in the American War of Independence, brought the cigar to North America. People set up cigar factories in Connecticut after people began growing tobacco there, all of which was processed from the Cuban seed. During the 19th century, production really took off and Cuban cigars were imported in large numbers.

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Credit: Wikimedia

However, it wasn’t until the 1860’s when cigar smoking became popular in the United States. At this point, the history of cigars began to change and people saw it as a symbol for class. As Spain was the leading culture and military power in the world at the time, what was popular in Spain spread to the rest of the world.

Andre Thevet brought the tobacco plant to France from the diplomat of Spain, Jean Nicot – from whom we took the modern term for nicotine. During its popularity in England in the 1600’s, people didn’t flavor cigars and preferred snuff and clay pipes. Elizabeth I of England tried smoking cigars after Sir Walter Raleigh persuaded her. People saw this as a superior thing to do, and it became a hobby amongst many. Specifically, 7,000 tobacconists operated in London during this era to make smoking a hobby.

Why Did Cigars Become Unpopular?

After the huge hype of cigars, its popularity dramatically dropped in the 1960’s after a victim of cigarettes spoke aloud about the health concerns of smoking. This dramatically altered the history of cigars. For the next 30 years, sales significantly dropped.

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But, in the 1990’s, it became popular again, thanks to the launch of Marvin R. Shanken’s Cigar Aficionado magazine in 1992. This magazine featured famous people smoking cigars, including Michael Jordan, Pierce Brosnan, Sylvester Stallone, and more celebrities. The magazine focused on making smoking cigars a lifestyle and establishing class by which tobacco you smoked.


How Cigars Are Made

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Cigar smoking is a long-standing tradition which has seen its ups and downs in the past few hundred years. The history of cigars is fascinating, and so is how they’re made and flavoured. Different types of tobacco produce different aromas, flavours and textures. People who grow tobacco control the conditions of the environment and prune the leaves to control the size of cigar making. Once the plants mature, the cigar-making process can begin.

Firstly, the tobacco leaves are harvested and are held in place to hold the leaves in place. The leaves become a brown colour and change to a drier texture. High-quality cigars usually take two to five years to ferment to develop the perfect aroma and flavor. The main stems are removed from the filler leaves to ensure the tobacco burns evenly.

After they’re stripped and separated, the leaves are rolled into a cigar shape with a traditional hand-rolling method or by using a machine. The cigars are then inspected based on their weight, size, shape and overall appearance. In order to enhance the cigar’s flavor, the process typically takes one to two years. Cheaper brands take less time to age and don’t have as strong a flavour.


Famous People Smoking Cigars

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Winston Churchill began smoking cigars at the young age of 15, and he has one in his hand or mouth in nearly every picture. He nourished himself with the best drink, food and cigars. Even still, he believed that Cuban brands were the best, and he reportedly smoked eight to 10 cigars a day. His constant smoking became a part of his identity, and many of his supporters replicated his actions.

Mark Twain was another cigar statesman, who smoked at least 22 cigars a day – sometimes up to 40. Despite his fame, he didn’t always smoke high-end brands, and would often unwrap them and obtain premium brand cigars to fool people. He famously said, “if smoking is not allowed in heaven, I shall not go”.

When you think of cigars, it’s not uncommon to think of John F. Kennedy. Despite his love of cigars, in 1962 he signed an agreement which prohibited Cuban products entering the country – including cigars. Before signing it, his press secretary obtained 1,000 Cuban cigars in 24 hours for him. In 2014, Obama relaxed trade sanctions to allow US travelers to bring back Cuban products.


Cigar Facts You Probably Never Knew

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1. Winston Churchill requested an oxygen mask which would accommodate his cigars, when flying. Even at 15,000 feet high, he puffed away. He even opened the cabin window so he could flick his cigar out of the plane.

2. Mark Twain gave up cigars at his wife’s request, which led to writer’s block. He then picked up smoking 300 cigars a month and wrote one book per month. Twain claimed that cigars helped his brain to function. His wife was so frustrated with his actions that she left him.

3. In the 20th century, Cleveland was the capital of the American cigar market. The Cuban tobacco had to be shipped to Florida and transported in a train to Ohio. By the time the tobacco arrived, it was dry. To reduce the costs of transportation and improve the quality of the tobacco, the big manufacturers moved to Miami, and still remain there to this day.

4. It’s easy to absorb the nicotine from cigar smoke as it breaks down in saliva. Even if the smoke isn’t inhaled, you can still become addicted to smoking.

5. A typical cigarette contains one to two milligrams of nicotine. Cigars contain 100 to 200 milligrams. Some can even contain up to 400 milligrams of nicotine.


The History of Cigars Hasn’t Changed Significantly

It’s surprising to think that cigars haven’t changed all that much from their introduction hundreds of years ago. People still associate smoking cigars with a certain class. For example, high-end casino players typically smoke a cigar when gambling, and the connotations of successful businessmen smoking still stands.

Do you know any interesting facts about the history of cigars? Share your thoughts and knowledge in the comments to educate others.

Related Article: Most Expensive Cigars You Should Consider Adding to Your Humidor

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