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From it’s ancient origins in the Americas to today’s cigar lounges worldwide, tobacco has played a considerable role in developing a bond between those that enjoy nature’s sweet leaf together. Tobacco was indigenous to the Americas, especially the Caribbean islands. Archeologists have unearthed ancient Mayan statues of individuals partaking in smoking (what is now deemed to be primitive cigars) dating back to 900 CE. A sacred belief of the earliest peoples was that the plant had sacred and healing properties. Native Americans ceremoniously used tobacco for religious and medicinal purposes; as these two fields were commonly linked. Although the exact origin of cigar smoking is still unknown, the process of making a cigar has been documented by Spanish settlers. Reports describe the Taino people holding burning bundles in their hands and inhaling the smoke. It was the first cigar, a very large cigar indeed, about the size of a musket according to chroniclers. When the Spanish arrived in 1492, they quickly adopted the rather rudimentary form of rolling a cigar by using tobacco leaves interwoven with other plants including the palm or plantain.
Once brought to Europe the cigar became quickly popularized and demand soared. The Old World immediately began to import tobacco and a new enterprise was born. Spain developed a refined art of carefully wrapping the tobacco leaves into the recognizable cigar which we see today. Cuba became the preferred location to grow tobacco plants, due to the fertile land and the warm climate. Soon a Cuban tobacco-growing industry was established and sailing ships were distributing the tobacco grown in Cuba. Tobacco was a luxury item that the upper echelon of society enjoyed when it was first introduced to the eastern hemisphere. By the mid-16th century, Europe and North America started to commercially grow tobacco. With an abundance of supply, smoking cigars spread with rapidity to all classes. Cigar smoking quickly spread from Spain to Portugal and France, however England was slower to take on the new pursuit. Under the reign of Queen Victoria, cigar smoking was limited to homes and private spaces. Upon her death, and with the coronation of King Edward the VII, the ban on public smoking was lifted. He infamously stated, “Gentlemen, you many now smoke!” The symbolic brand, “King Edward” was dubbed in his honor.
Over the course of the next 300 years, the appeal of cigar manufacturing was permanently affixed to a global market. Gentlemen of all walks of life would embrace the sophistication that the cigar culture generated. Men of great passion, brilliance, influence and power would discuss and write about the importance of their romantic pastime. Military generals, political leaders, business tycoons, writers, entertainers, athletes and many more have all indulged by taking a moment out of their busy lives to puff on the exceptional craft of the cigar. Abraham Lincoln once stated, "It has been my experience that folks who have no vices, have very few virtues". Mark Twain lamented, “If heaven has no cigars, I shall not go there”. The affinity for cigars was deeply rooted in ritual and became a part of not just the wealthy’s daily lives, but the common man too. With the affordability, robust flavors and intoxicating scents, people were compelled to gather and share in the fine moment of what seemed like luxury.
By the 1900’s, the mechanization of cigars was introduced and sold to the masses at an unprecedented rate. The definition of a quality cigar equated to Cuban cigars. Although factories were constructed within the United States, Cuban seeds were still the secret ingredient to the alluring taste and scent of cigars. After the 1960’s turmoil ensued and foreign relations soured after the Cuban revolution and the application of the US trade embargo. According to John F, Kennedy’s press secretary, on the night prior to the implementation of the trade embargo, he was ordered to commandeer 1,200 Cuban cigars for himself. When the executive order was put into effect US residents were now prohibited from purchasing Cuban cigars and American cigar manufacturers from importing Cuban tobacco, depriving the Cuban government of income from an important cash crop. This only added to the mystique. In true American spirit the cigar found its way back to the country through different avenues. The pining for Cuban cigars continued on and in the early 1960s, many former Cuban cigar manufacturers moved to other countries (primarily the Dominican Republic) to continue production with much success. Several Cuban farmers moved to neighboring Caribbean islands to harvest tobacco using Cuban seeds.