The History of Cigars: From Ancient Times to the Modern Humidor
Cigar smokers today can choose from a vast selection of premium cigars sourced from all over the world. However, it has taken more than 1,000 years for cigars to evolve to where they are today. Here’s what you should know about the history of the cigars in your humidor.
The First Cigars
Precisely when cigars were invented is unknown. What is certain, though, is that native tribes in Central America were smoking primitive cigars for many centuries before Europeans arrived. The earliest known image of a cigar appears on a Mayan pot dated to the 10th century, but it’s entirely possible that the native peoples of Central America had already been smoking them for some time before that. The Mayan word for the act of smoking, sikar, may have also been passed on to Spanish explorers and adapted into the Spanish word cigarro.
Cigars Reach Europe
When Christopher Columbus first visited Cuba in 1492, he observed the natives smoking primitive cigars similar to the ones smoked by the Maya. Columbus would go on to introduce tobacco to Europe, where smoking was initially met with disdain. Over time, though, the Spanish and other Europeans would begin to enjoy smoking tobacco leaves.
As tobacco from the New World became increasingly available, small cigar-making workshops in Spain started to emerge. The modern cigar is generally dated to the early 18th century, by which time tobacco consumption was extremely popular. The cigar industry would undergo a massive change in 1758, when the world’s first tobacco processing factory opened its doors in Seville, Spain. This factory, which was controlled by the Spanish monarchy, marks the birth of the modern cigar industry.
The Cigar Industry Grows and Matures in Cuba
As demand for cigars grew in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, production in Spain struggled to keep up. As a result, the cigar industry found a new home in the Spanish colony of Cuba, where Columbus had first witnessed natives smoking early cigars. Cuba’s climate was perfect for growing tobacco, and the island was soon the cigar manufacturing capital of the world. During the 19th century, many cigar companies were founded on the island, including a few that are still popular with cigar lovers today. Punch, for example, got its start in Cuba in 1840. This period also saw the cigar industry branch out into nearby Florida, particularly the cities of Key West and Tampa.
Cigars Become a Status Symbol
Though cigars have always been a luxury, the 19th and early 20th centuries saw them become symbols of wealth and status. The expense of importing them from Cuba made frequent cigar smoking a pastime of the rich, who could afford as many cigars as they wanted. Since that time, cigars have been widely associated with wealth and success in the business world.
Cigars in the Last Century
Cigars were at the height of their popularity in the early to mid 20th century. Even in England, where smoking had been stigmatized under Queen Victoria, cigars were made more acceptable when a newly-crowned Edward VII famously said “Gentlemen, you may smoke” to his guests after a dinner event. By 1960, Americans alone would consume about 7 billion cigars annually.
Nevertheless, the popularity of cigars did begin to fade in the second half of the 20th century. Sales declined significantly going into the 1980s. In the early 1990s, though, a global cigar boom began that produced the industry as it exists today. Demand for cigars skyrocketed, creating pressure to increase supply. It was in this time that countries such as Nicaragua and Ecuador became major tobacco suppliers. Today, cigars are back in style, and modern aficionados are enjoying the plethora of new premium brands produced by the cigar boom of the 1990s.