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The History of Cigars

The History of Cigars

Cigar Babe: Throwback History of Cigars


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Somewhere in the year 1492 when Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, he gained credit for introducing tobacco to Europe. Three members of the Columbus Crew are rumored to have spotted tobacco in present-day Dominican Republic, and when the men settled in Cuba, they found this game-changing leaf again.

The indigenous people of the Caribbean smoked the dried tobacco leaves rolled up in plantain or palm leaves, and in seeing their pleasure in doing so, the Spanish and European sailors adopted their smoking hobby. Eventually, as most trends do, the primitive cigar smoking grew more popular and reached the Conquistadors, Spain, Portugal and then most notably, Jean Nicot, the French ambassador to Portugal, lending his last name to nicotine.

Eventually, the ultimate trendsetter, aristocrat, soldier and spy Sir Walter Raleigh brought tobacco to Britain, deeming him as the man who turned smoking tobacco into popular culture. British politicians should give him a special thanks, because he completed their looks by the addition of a tobacco-filled pipe hanging out of their mouths at all times.

Chapman tobacco pipe

By the mid-16th century, tobacco was being grown commercially in America. In true fashion, some people thought tobacco was the answer to all their problems, while others thought it was the devil, leading to its denouncing by King Philip II of Spain and King James I of England.

And that was the end of it. Because being shut down by the government ends all new products. Just like prohibition and alcohol, right? Wrong.

 We want beer

In 1592, a Spanish ship brought my Weight Watchers goal weight of 110 pounds in tobacco seed to the Philippines. The Spanish crewmen had a much easier time raking in these seeds than I am having losing this weight…. Moving on.

My goal weight in tobacco seed was distributed among the Roman Catholic missionaries, where they found the perfect places for growing tobacco in the Philippine soil.

Fast forward to the 19th century, and cigar smoking was totally entrenched in pop culture, while cigarettes were like Crocs today: a rare (but fashionably disappointing) siting.

Cigar business had become an important industry; however, this was before mechanized manufacturing, so cigar factories were bangin’ with workers making hand-crafted cigars.

In 1869, well-known Spanish manufacturer Vincente Martinez Ybor relocated his operations from his cigar manufacturing center of Havana, Cuba to sunny Key West, Florida, home of Ernest Hemingway, conch fritters and the famous Duval Street, in effort to escape the turmoil of the Ten Years’ War. Before Duval Street and conch fritters, the cigar manufacturing business boomed in Key West.

In 1885, Ybor moved his important manufacturing center again to the now Land of the Grandparents: Tampa, Florida, buying the neighboring land and building the world’s largest cigar factory at the time, modestly named after himself asYbor City.

In a traditional Montague-Capulet feud, arch nemesis Ignacio Haya constructed his own neighboring factory that same year. The saying, “If you build it, they will come,” rings extremely true in this case as thousands of cigar manufacturers from Key West, Cuba and New York hopped on the bandwagon and built cigar manufacturing centers in Tampa, thus producing hundreds of millions of cigars annually. Output peaked in 1929 when the cigar rollers of Ybor City and West Tampa crafted over 500,000,000 cigars, deeming the town the "Cigar Capital of the World".

The Big Apple was also getting a piece of the action by rolling cigars out of their own homes. In 1883, a reported 127 New York residences were rolling stogies on their kitchen tables. Although NY cigar manufacturingwas banned once, the ruling was named unconstitutional in less than four months. By the time 1905 rolled around, there were about 80,000 cigar-making operations in the States. Most of them were tiny, family-run businesses where the cigars were rolled and sold on the spot.

Although it is now most common for cigars to be made by a machine, some businesses stay true to their roots, by still rolling them by hand.

Among these hand-rollers are majority of people in Central America and Cuba, as well as some sizable cities in the U.S. These rare, premium cigars, known as totalmente a mano (totally by hand), are an entirely different ballgame than those sold in packs at drug stores and gas stations. It’s basically like buying a purse at Neiman Marcus vs. Target.

So, if you want to bring a cigar to a cigar lounge, don’t embarrass yourself by bringing a Target bag to a Prada party.