The origin of smoking cigars is somewhat mysterious. Most are in agreement that the activity first took place in the Americas but are unsure of where exactly. Artifacts have been discovered that link its origin to Guatemala, and the Mayans have a word for smoking, “sikar,” that we can see has a strong similarity to the word “cigar.” Sikar most likely led to the Spanish word “cigarro,” where the cigar inherits its name. What we do know for certain is that Christopher Columbus not only discovered the Americas in 1492 but also found the Native Americans smoking bundles of tobacco.
Columbus returned to Europe after his adventure with tobacco leaves and seeds, but it took a while for the plant to become a hit. All the while, smoking was becoming widely popular in Spain and Portugal. France Jean Nicot, the French ambassador to Portugal, began smoking tobacco in the mid-16th century, and his use of the plant caused it to gain popularity. The word “nicotine” was even derived from his name. The act of smoking a cigar then began making its way to Italy and other European countries. By this time, Spanish manufacturers had created the process of wrapping dried tobacco in special papers instead of leaves, making smoking an artform. While some rulers–such as King Philip II of Spain and King James I of England–called the act of smoking evil, the cigar grew in popularity as companies began growing tobacco for commercial consumption.
When the price for tobacco became too expensive to continue importing, the English made an effort to grow the plant in the Americas. The first try occured in the thriving colony of Virginia. In 1612, John Rolfe cultivated the first successful crop of tobacco, and within seven years, its popularity had grown so much that it was the colony’s largest export.
In the following centuries, the tobacco industry boomed. By 1880, the only states in the Union that didn’t have a cigar factory were Montana and Idaho. While the United States was able to make and sell its own cigars, it was common knowledge that the best cigars came from the West Indies, specifically Cuba.
The cigar industry continued to grow and flourish, even during the time period of the Civil War, known as the Golden Age of the Cigar.
Everyone thought the cigar industry would continue to prosper, until suddenly it didn’t.
When Fidel Castro emerged in Cuba in 1959, relations between Cuba and the United States turned sour. Cuba became known as a communist threat, and by 1960, President John F. Kennedy had plans to execute the Bay of Pigs invasion in an effort to rid the world of Castro. Unfortunately, the invasion did not go as planned and only served to anger Castro, creating even more tension between the U.S. and Cuba. In response, many Cuban cigar makers moved to Tampa, Florida, which became known as “Cigar City.” Approximately three hundred million cigars were consumed by the U.S. by the mid-19th century thanks to their affordability and the convenience of obtaining them.
Cigars have lived a long and prosperous life, remaining a popular fixture in most cultures. They became a must-have by high class gentlemen such as King Edward VII and famous war figures like Ulysses S. Grant; even literary geniuses like Mark Twain enjoyed a nice stogie. Cigars eventually found their spot in pop culture, having starred in an episode of Seinfeld and being endorsed by celebrities like Michael Jordan, Rush Limbaugh, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lil Wayne.
The cigar has withstood the test of time, and its popularity doesn’t seem to be diminishing anytime soon. We appreciate the cigar’s rich history and invite you to enjoy it with us by joining us at BLEND.
BLEND Bar • Cigar with Davidoff Cigars® is Indianapolis and Nashville’s premier cocktail lounge and cigar bar. BLEND’s selection of premium cigars is second to none, and our walk-in humidor is one of the largest in the US. BLEND is the only appointed merchant for Davidoff cigars in Indiana, so cigar aficionados are sure to find what they are looking for.