Humanity’s love affair with tobacco—and in specific, with the cigar—dates back centuries. It makes sense to think that the cigars we enjoy today are the result of hundreds of years of perfection and evolution. Here’s a brief, educational overview of the history of cigars.
1492: Christopher Columbus and his crew of seafaring adventurers reached land in the Dominican Republic and were the first Europeans to encounter tobacco. The crew learned that on most Caribbean islands, tobacco was smoked for enjoyment. In Cuba, natives there smoked a primitive form of cigar with twisted, dried tobacco leaves.
1500: By this time in history, European sailors began to adopt the hobby of rolling leaves and smoking primitive cigars.
1550s: Jean Nicot, the French ambassador to Portugal, was influential in spreading his newly adopted hobby to Europe. Nicot is even where the word “nicotine” comes from. At around the same time during the mid-1550s, Sir Walter Raleigh brought tobacco to England, where pipe smoking quickly became popular.
1650s: By the mid-1600s, European settlers to North America began growing tobacco. At the time, tobacco was thought to possess medicinal qualities.
1800s: By the 19th century, cigar smoking had become commonplace throughout America and Europe, while cigarettes were still comparatively rare. The cigar industry began to grow into importance, with factories employing many people. To escape the turmoil of the Ten Years’ War (1868–1878), many cigar manufacturers in Cuba transplanted to Florida. Ybor City near Tampa became the largest cigar factory in the world for a time. Hundreds of millions of cigars were produced annually.
1929: Workers in Ybor City and West Tampa rolled over 500 million cigars in a single year. At this time, there were 80,000 cigar manufacturing operations in the United States. This was the peak of the industry’s output during the hand-made era.
1940s: Most cigars by the 40s were machine made, giving birth to the distinction between premium hand-rolled cigars and machine-made cigars. Machine-made cigars began being sold in packs at drugstores and gas stations.
1990s: The Cigar Boom was the name given to the resurgence of cigar consumption in the United States during the middle of the 1990s. Beginning in the year 1992, imports and sales of premium cigars began to rise dramatically, and manufacturers struggled to keep up with demand. This led to industrywide shortages of raw materials and finished products. This was also a period marked in 1992 by the establishment of Cigar Aficionado magazine. By 1997, production finally caught up with demand, and the downward side of the boom and bust cycle began to be felt. This led to a shakeout of many of the smaller and weaker upstart manufacturers of boutique premium cigars.