Early History: The arrival of Christopher Columbus to the larger Antilles where the Spaniards meet our local Taino Indians, both male & female, whom carried with them dry leaves which they called Tabacos & a pipe structure to inhale the smoke when lit with fire. Columbus himself wrote that theses aboriginals in Cuba & Hispaniola called the plant Cohiba, today the name of major brands both in Cuba & the Dominican Republic, DR. We now know that this species of the tobacco plant was the Criollo variety, native in Spanish & as its name states, originally from our region.
Spanish historian’s created Rodrigo de Xeres as the first to smoke cigars & he apparently did so every day. They further state that Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro, 1st Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca & famous Conquistador, was the first to bring back tobacco to Europe in 1518.
Portuguese experts confirm that it was Francisco Hernández de Toledo, a First wave of Spanish Renaissance physicians & that he was ordered to embark on the first scientific mission in the New World, a study of the region’s medicinal plants & he brought back tobacco to Europe between 1520 & 1530.
The Dutch claim it was Damien de Goes that brought back seeds from Florida & offered them to King Sébastien of Portugal around 1570.
In any case many explorers like , the Italian Amerigo Vespucci, Ferdinand Magellan, (Portuguese Fernão de Magalhães), & also Portuguese Pedro Álvares Cabral all describe the strange ritual of the native Indians that lit dry leaves, inhale & exhale the smoke produced for Religious rituals.
The word Cigarro in Spanish or Cigar in English seems to come from the Mayan, ( Mexico & Guatemala area), word Ciq-sigan, pronounced improperly by Europeans as Seekar or Sikar.
Evolution of Cigar smoking during the 17th & 18th Centuries:
Once tobacco reached Spain it was then traded to Portugal in the 1550’s where the French Ambassador in Lisbon, Jean Nicot, brought tobacco plants back to France. He introduced snuff to the French court. The queen mother, Catherine de’ Medici, became an instant tobacco convert. The plant was also an instant success with the Father Superior of Malta, who shared tobacco with all of his monks. More and more of the fashionable people of Paris began to use the plant, making Nicot a celebrity. At first, the plant was called Nicotina. But nicotine later came to refer only to the particular chemical in the plant.
From France Tobacco was introduced to Italy & England. By 1565 most of Western Europe’s Nobility & Aristocracy had been exposed to tobacco products.
In the New world tobacco was being planted in Santo Domingo around 1530, Cuba 1580, Brasil 1600, Virginia 1612 & Maryland 1631.
In North America even though the Spanish Conquistadors brought Tobacco with them it was not til much later that Cigars were introduced. Israel Putman, a Connecticut Gentleman, whom later became the Bunker Hill hero, during the American Revolution, in 1762, survived a shipwreck during the British expedition against Cuba that led to the capture of Havana. He returned to Hartford Connecticut with Cuban cigars & tobacco seeds that he planted in the Hartford area, resulting in the development of the renowned Connecticut shade Wrapper. Shortly thereafter Cigar factories also sprung up in New York & Pennsylvania. Cigar smoking became fashionable for the rich & famous American Society.
Spanish cigar making flourished especially in Sevilla, where most of the tobacco arrived from the new world during the 18th century. As of 1717, it becomes the center of Spain’s cigar production until 1821 when King Fernando VII proclaims by royal decree that cigars can be produce duty free in all of Cuba. Still to this day the, Kings of Spain, receive an annual symbolic amounts of Cuban cigars.
19th & 20th Centuries the coming of age of Cigar smoking:
As cigars became more & more popular in Spain & other West European countries, the veterans that fought the 1814 war campaign against Napoleon Bonaparte brought with them cigars when they returned to England after 1820. Cigar smoking was considered a luxury during the middle of the 19th century due to high taxes levied on them while other tobacco products were less taxed, (unfortunately this custom is still prevalent today).
During the middle of the 19th century many cigar smoking clubs opened in the USA & during the 1870’s people like Henry Clay & the Baron of Rothschild made cigar smoking very fashionable.
During the 1920’s machines started producing cigarettes & cigar rolling decreased greatly in the USA & Europe but increased in Cuba & the DR. Today only 2 % of cigars made in the US & Europe are hand rolled. Cuba produces approximately 90 million hand rolled cigars & the DR 380 million. Yes 4 X more than Cuba