History of the Cigar
The discovery of tobacco
In 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World in the Santa Maria and landed in what is now known as Bahia de Gibara, Cuba. One must assume his Sat Nav. had broken, because he was a little off-course. In fact, he thought that they had landed in China. He was around 12,500 kilometers out, which is a long way to go for a take-away by anyone's standards.
Nevertheless, Columbus wanted to meet with the Chinese Emperor and so sent off two of his sailors, Rodrigo de Jerez and Luis de Torres, to find him. They were also to report back with anything of interest - and they certainly did that.
De Jerez and De Torres happened upon some of the indigenous people of Cuba. They were ‘drinking’ smoke from tobacco leaves wrapped in corn husks ‘in the manner of a musket formed of paper.’ Rodrigo took a risk and tried it and became the first European to smoke.
The exciting new habit spread amongst the sailors who took it back to Spain and Portugal. Tobacco had begun its epic journey around Europe. Jean Nicot was the French ambassador to Portugal from 1559 to 1561. On his return to France, he brought tobacco and later indoctrinated the Queen Mother, Catherine de’ Medici. She became quite addicted and, as the habit became fashionable, Nicot’s fame grew.
He gave his name to Nicotine and to the tobacco plant - Nicotiana. Pipe smoking soon became popular in Italy and once Sir Walter Raleigh had brought tobacco back from America interest sparked in England.
The Venerable Cigar
The word cigar is derived from the Mayan word Sikar meaning to ‘inhale smoke’. It was corrupted by the Spanish and made cigarro. It went through various different forms including ‘segar,’ but it finally settled on the word we know today.
The tobacco leaf was originally used as a medication, but the Cuban farmers had seen greater promise in the unassuming leaf. They began to grow tobacco on a much larger scale, as an export crop, in the 16th century. However, the Cigar was not in commercial production until the early 18th century when Spain began to produce their own.
The cigar made itself known to North America around the mid-18th century when production began in Connecticut, a place already well versed in the pleasures of tobacco. American Israel Putnam had been stationed in Cuba whilst serving in the British Army. He had acquired Cuban tobacco seeds and boasted a collection of Havana Cigars. People were excited and factories were soon built to process the tobacco, which was grown from seed sourced in Cuba. By the end of the 18th Century production had begun in France, Holland and Germany.
High import taxes had made the Cigar a luxury item in Britain. Their wide popularity demanded that there should be local production, and the British started making cigars in the early nineteenth century (around 1820) as a result.
The cigar only became very popular in America at the time of the Civil War, and by the late 19th Century had become synonymous with high social standing.
Demand for a higher quality cigar grew and Cuba recognized their great potential to export. Their output soon bested Spain and tobacco, in the form of the cigar, became their chief export, over-taking the Cuban coffee exports by 1845. The Cuban Cigar became a national symbol, a recognized brand and set the standard in excellence for the rest of the world.
Queen Victoria's son Edward (Prince of Wales) was a fashionable smoker. His love of the cigar only helped to promote it, despite Queen Victoria's strong aversion to smoking in all its forms. Laws were passed prohibiting smoking in public places, but when Edward became King in 1901 he reinstated the right to smoke anywhere.
Smoking continued to be very popular throughout the 20th century, but the 1960s American Surgeon General’s report revealed that smoking had negative health implications. Smoking is far from good for you, and this stemmed the public enthusiasm for smoking cigarettes and cigars.
America imposed a financial and commercial embargo (7th February 1962) on Cuba, after Castro overthrew Fulgenico Batista and the Cuban government. The embargo continues today and has rendered any Cuban imports illegal.
However, as cigarette smoking has become less of a social activity, and less popular, there had been something of a cigar-smoking revival.
According to Ash.org cigar consumption rose by 50%’ during the late 1990’s. This could well be down to the chic brand image and historical associations that the cigar maintains. Cigar clubs have even been opened in American baseball stadiums; the Pittsburgh Pirates instated the Montecristo Club in April 2006 and then the Camacho Cigar Bar was unveiled at Comerica Park in June.
The cigar has always been a status symbol and it seems to have become a viable, somewhat ‘cool’ alternative to smoking cigarettes. In fact, it seems that the Cigar has sparked again.