The history of the cigar goes back about two thousand years. The origins of the world 'cigar' and the cigar itself are lost in time. Some scholars say the word cigar originated from sikar, the Mayan word for smoking. It is believed that the cigar has its origins within Central America, where smoking was practiced by the Mayans and later the Aztecs. They were known to have smoked tubes of loosely rolled tobacco leaves, similar to the present day cigars.
After Columbus's discovery of the West Indies and other explorers visiting the American continent, numerous accounts were written of these New World people who smoked tobacco and also used it for chew and as snuff for medicinal properties in their ceremonies.
Smoking came to Europe with the return of Columbus from the New World in 1492. He had been offered some dried leaves as a token of friendship and his men had witnessed how these leaves were used. Columbus himself was not particularly impressed by the custom, but soon Spanish and other European sailors fell for the habit, followed by the conquistadores and colonists. The introduction of tobacco seeds or plants is attributed to Ramon Pane, Columbus' priest on his second voyage. In due course the returning conquistadores introduced tobacco smoking to Spain and Portugal. The habit was considered a sign of wealth, and then it spread to France, through the French ambassador to Portugal, Jean Nicot in 1560 (whom the herb was given its botanical name Nicotiana tabacum, the Latin name for tobacco).
Various people have been credited with being the first to smoke in England. We know tobacco was introduced into England at some time before 1565, when Hawkins returned from a voyage to America. Sir Walter Raleigh is believed to be chiefly responsible for making the smoking habit fashionable. Sailors were really the first to be seen smoking cigars around 1557.
By 1580's, smoking was coming into fashion among the upper classes, though for many years the habit was still frowned upon by their womenfolk to such an extent that the men had to take themselves off to the kitchen or the stables, or puff surreptitiously up the chimney, if they wished to smoke in their own homes.
Although the first tobacco plantations were set up in Virginia in 1612, and Maryland in 1631, tobacco was smoked only in pipes in the American colonies. The cigar itself is thought not to have arrived until after 1762, when Israel Putnam, an American general in the Revolutionary War, returned from Cuba, where he had been an officer in the British army. He came back to his home in Connecticut with a selection of Havana cigars, and large amounts of Cuban tobacco. Before long, cigar factories were set up in the Hartford area. Production of the leaves started in the 1820s, and Connecticut tobacco today provides among the best wrapper leaves to be found outside Cuba. By the early 19th century, not only were Cuban cigars being imported into the United States, but domestic production was also taking off.
By the mid 1800's the cigar had had become well accepted and in 1870 it was recorded that over half of the tobacco smoked in our towns was in the form of cigars.
During the depression in the early 1920's, the total consumption of tobacco fell and cigar manufacturers turned to 'promoting' their brands by including beautifully designed and colored inserts and in their packaging and boxes in order to attract cigar smokers, a tradition that continues to this day with some manufacturers.
Cuba led the way in the cigar industry. Early in the 16th century, Cuban peasants became tobacco growers. Later, the cigar became the country's national symbol and the Havana cigar became recognized as the world's finest.
The take-over by Fidel Castro and the subsequent U.S. embargo were the start of events that began to challenge Havana's supremacy in the world of cigars. Many Cuban cigar-makers took their skills and seeds to the Caribbean, Dominican Republic, Honduras and Mexico and began producing high-quality premium and super-premium cigars for the American public. The Dominican Republic alone produces almost half of the hand-made cigars sold in the U.S.
Today, anyone can enjoy the taste of a premium cigar. Cigars handmade by experts from a choice blend of top-quality tobaccos and aged to perfection are referred to as premium cigars. Celebrities, industry leaders, politicians, sophisticated women and men are seen at dinners and at smoking clubs enjoying luxury cigars.
At Barclay-Rex for almost 100 years we have been recommending and selling premium cigars and tobaccos. Please email
us your questions and one of our knowledgeable staff will answer promptly.