History of Cigar

Nobody knows for sure when tobacco plants were grown for the first time but there aren't any doubts as to where. The indiginous populations of the Americas were undoudtedly the first not only to grow tobacco but to smoke this plant that had reached those parts from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

Tobacco was surely used by the Mayer in Centrale America too but when their unity was lost the tribes dispersed and took tobacco with them to the southern and northern parts of America where it was smoked for the first time in the rituals of the Mississippi indians.

The rest of the world was introduced to tobacco thanks to the important travels undertaken by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Columbus wasn’t particularly taken aback by the trend but not soon after, Spanish and other European colonisers (along with conquistadores), were left more than fascinated.

Successively after returning to Europe the conquistadores introduced the habit of smoking tobacco in Spain and Portugal. This trend symbolised richness and well-being and therefore became diffused in France too thanks to the French Ambassador in Portugal, a gentleman called Jean Nicot (from which the term nicotina e Nicotiana Tabacum, the Latin name for tobacco),  In Great Britain like all students know, the introduction and the new fashion of smoking was probably thanks to Sir Walter Raleigh.

Even though the first tobacco plantations appeared in Virginia in 1612 and in Maryland in 1631, tobacco was only smoked by pipe in the American colonies. It is believed that the cigar only appeared in 1762 when Israel Putnam having become an American  general during the war of Independence returned home from Cuba to Connecticut, an area rich in tobacco plantations stemming from early colonisers since the 17th Century (and before then, by the indigenous population), where he had served as an officer in the British army with an assortment of Cuban Havana cigars and a large quantity of Cuban tobacco.

The habit of smoking cigars (contrast that of smoking tobacco in other forms), became diffused in the rest of Europe starting from the city of Seville, Spain, where in 1717 cigar production began with Cuban tobacco. In 1790, cigar production had extended north of the Pyrenees with small productions in France and Germany.

Cigar smoking diffused to France and Great Britain only after the Russo Turkish war (1806-1812), against Napoleon when the French and British veterans introduced the habit acquired on their return from military service in Spain. At the time tobacco was principally sniffed and not utilised in pipes anymore, as a result,  the cigar became the fashionable way of smoking it. In Great Britain in 1820 and in 1821 the production of “segars” as they were later called began, and a law permitting their production was established in Parliament.

In Cuba around half way through the 19th century when the tobacco business had been liberalised, 9500 tobacco plantations existed (compared to the 120 or so at the beginning of the 18th century), leading to the setup of factories in Havana and other cities where cigar production and its sector became nothing more than prosperous. Exports were directed principally to the United States until the introduction of Customs in 1857. In the same period brand differentiation, boxed cigars, brand ring labels and different size formats became available.

In 1919, Thomas Marshall the Vice President to Woodrow Wilson declared in front of Senate, “What this country really needs is a good 5 cent cigar”. His aspirations were only satisfied forty years later when new production methods permitted the introduction of cheap cigar machines and consequently cheap cigar production. Nevertheless, cigar sales have suffered a drop in the past twenty years falling from 9 billion cigars in 1970 (all types) to 2 billion today.

The machining and production of cigars was introduced towards 1920 (In Cuba, the company Por Larranaga was the first to undertake the attempt notwithstanding the strong opposition from its workers). In the United States manufacturing by hand fell from 90% to 2% at the end of the 1950’s.

Today Cuba produces a total of 350 million cigars a year, of which 100 million are bound for export, (and 20 million of these are produced by machine) compared to the 30 million total exported after the revolution. During this time revolts took place in the cigar factories with the introduction of the Woman Roller at the beginning of the 1960’s. Until that time men had been the only Rollers, women were used only for the leaf selection that were sorted on their laps. This sheds light on the famous legend that cigars were unrolled on the thighs of Cuban girls.

 

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