A Historical Look at Cigars in the United States

Many Americans pride themselves in consistent social achievement and elevation of social and economic status. From graduating college to a business promotion, one celebratory tradition remains a staple in our culture: lightning and smoking an expensive cigar. Here we will explore their history and how they came to dominate our cultural stratosphere.

Cigars have existed for thousands of years dating back to the Mayans in the 10th Century. Clay and pottery sculptures often depict a man smoking a primitive form of a cigar suggesting that the tobacco plant was a crown discovery in even the most ancient of civilizations. It wasn’t until a recounted journey in 1492, that Christopher Columbus and his men encountered the technique of rolling tobacco in tightly bound plantain or palm leaves through trading with Native Americans on the island of Hispaniola, now known today as Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Upon their return to Spain, the practice of cigar smoking spread throughout the Western hemisphere to Portugal and particularly France, where the term “nicotine” is derived from the name of the French Ambassador, Jean Nicot. Eventually the practice evolved with Spanish merchants developing a specialized paper for the rapping of the cigar and the industry emerged making the selling and consumption of cigars a continuously rising commercial success.

It was soon discovered that the tobacco leaf grew with a far richer, riper, and bolder flavor through Cuban soil and the country’s unique climate; hence, today, a Cuban cigar is one of the most invaluable tobacco commodities. Spain famously failed to monopolize the cigar industry as their threatening control forced cigar manufacturing companies to relocate. Some went to cultivate tobacco plants in an area now referred to as the Philippines, while a certain Vicente Martinez Ybor moved his Principe de Gales (Prince of Wales) operations to Key West, Florida in an effort to escape the looming threat of the Ten Years’ War. So began the introduction of tobacco and cigars to United States soil.

The product spread like a wild fire all throughout the United States. New York in particular played a key factor in the turning the cigar into a household merchandise, literally. In 1883 an estimated 127 apartment houses employed workers rolling cigars in their own homes despite of the state banning the practice. Of course, this statute was ruled unconstitutional only four months later, and by 1905 the United States saw an uprising total of 80,000 cigar manufacturing companies operating domestically, once more rendering the cigar a commercial hit. Whether machine made and sold in a gas station or deli, or premium hand rolled and sold in a shop dedicated specifically to cigars, it is no doubt that tobacco and cigars will forever be near and dear to Americans’ hearts.