History of Cigars
Tobacco was most likely first cultivated and used by the Maya civilization, builders of Chichen Itza. As their empire grew, the Maya carried their precious plants throughout the Yucatan Peninsula and Central America. When the Maya culture and civilization collapsed, its scattered people spread tobacco cultivation to the Caribbean Basin, where Columbus and his crew encountered it in San Salvador. Although Christopher Columbus is said to have been unimpressed with the custom, many in his crew readily embraced the Caribbean Indians' practice of smoking cured, rolled tobacco leaves.
Spanish conquistadors who took tobacco (along with some Indians) back with them introduced smoking to Spain. It wasn't long before tobacco spread to France and then leapt across the channel, where Sir Walter Raleigh introduced smoking tobacco into fashionable English society. (Sir Walter ultimately lost his head, but we're quite sure it wasn't for lighting up in the no-smoking section.)
America has supported, and has been supported by, tobacco farming since the 17th century. Some of the first tobacco plantations in the South date back to about 1610. In the same time period, tobacco cultivation began in the Connecticut Valley, where some of the finest cigar wrapper leaf is still grown.
During the American Revolution, tobacco loans were the major financial support behind the First and Second Continental Congresses. Tobacco revenue also helped finance the war, and it was tobacco that helped stimulate the post-revolutionary economy in the infant American democracy.
Back in Europe, the custom of smoking cigars made in Spain spread rapidly in the early 18th century. By the turn of the 19th century, cigar manufacture had spread north to France and Germany, roughly matching the growth of the U.S. cigar industry.
In the early 19th century, as European demand for high-quality products rose, Cuba began a shift from tobacco exporter to cigar manufacturer. By then, cigar smoking had become such a widely accepted facet of social life among the upper classes that smoking rooms were introduced in gentlemen's clubs. By the turn of the 20th century, the "after-dinner cigar" had become an evening tradition throughout the European continent.
But despite the cigar's ascendancy in Europe, it took some celebrity endorsements to help the cigar custom gain a firm foothold on this side of the Atlantic. To that end, the first celebrity cigar endorser here was probably President U.S. Grant, who did more than any previous American to popularize the cherished "cheroot."
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-Last updated on July 28th, 2015