There is much dispute about the origin of the word cigar. Some historians believe it comes from sik'ar, the Mayan Indian word for smoking, while others maintain that it derives from the Spanish word cigarrar, which means "to roll." One of the most popular forms of cigars, made in Seville from Cuban leaf toward the end of the seventeenth century, was the cigale, which in Spanish means "locust," so named because of its similarity in color and shape to that of a large locust.
Spanish and Cuban Origins
The first cigars (or Havanas), as discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492, were smoked by the native inhabitants of what is now Cuba and were made from raw, twisted leaves of cured tobacco. Dried corn husks were used as wrappers. The first cigars made in similar fashion to those of today were produced by the Spanish company Tabacalera, in Seville, in the early eighteenth century. It was then that the idea of constructing a cigar with a filler, binder, and wrapper was invented. At this time, because of the cost of tobacco, cigars were only smoked by the wealthy. The practice was exported to Cuba in 1740, when the Real Compãnia de Comercio de la Habana (Royal Trading Company of Havana) was created by royal decree. Hence Cuba's cigar industry was, largely, created by the Spanish. Spanish regulation was interrupted during English occupation of the island but was restored in 1764.
By the end of the seventeenth century, the demand in Spain for cigars from Cuba, then a Spanish colony, exceeded the demand for sevillas, as the Spanish version was called. Therefore, in 1821 a royal decree allowed for the unfettered growth and sale of tobacco in Cuba. This decree gave a boost to the industry, which previously had been controlled by the Spanish government, and new producers emerged throughout the island. Since that time, the Spanish Crown has obtained its entire supply of cigars from Cuba, and Spain remains the largest importer of Havana cigars.
In the middle of the eighteenth century cigars were exported to Holland and, soon after, to Russia, which became one of the first countries to impose a tax on tobacco products. By the end of that century cigar production had spread from Spain into France and Germany, but it was not until the first quarter of the nineteenth century that the manufacture of "segars," as they were then called, started in Britain, and in 1821 an Act of Parliament began governing such production. Manufacture in Britain had become necessary because Lord Wellington's troops, returning in 1812 from Portugal, had become used to segars in the Iberian Peninsula and were increasingly turning to that form of smoking in preference to the pipe—a trend that spread rapidly to the general public.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, smoking in Britain and abroad had become so universal as to require the establishment of smoking rooms in hotels and clubs and smoking compartments on trains. Skullcaps in bright colors and smoking jackets were introduced to obviate the aroma of cigars clinging to normal wear. The dinner jacket, or tuxedo, is called le smoking in French-speaking countries to this very day.
Cigar usage in Britain was affected by the active disapproval of Queen Victoria, and it was only after the accession of King Edward VII in 1901 that the after-dinner pronouncement: "Gentlemen, you may smoke," became de rigueur. It was around this time that new shapes evolved, which were inspired, to some extent, by such prominent British smokers as the London financier Leopold de Rothschild and the Earl of Lonsdale.
Cigar Production in the United States
In the late eighteenth century cigar factories were established in Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania. It was at one of the Pennsylvania factories in Conestoga that a long cigar, called a stogie, was first produced. (Later this name was applied to any workingman's cigar.) American production of tobacco, from Cuban seed, began around 1825, although American cigar factories continued to import Cuban tobacco, which they used to manufacture expensive cigars called Havanas, the same term applied to cigars produced in Cuba. The name Havana has since become a generic term for these exclusive cigars.
In the nineteenth century the cigar became a status symbol of sorts in the United States, in part, because of its use by such well-respected figures as President Ulysses S. Grant and the writer Mark Twain. Twain expressed his love of tobacco and cigars often in speeches and in his non-fiction. In his Following the Equator (1897), the author writes "I pledged myself to smoke but one cigar a day. I kept the cigar waiting until bedtime, then I had a luxurious time with it. But desire persecuted me every day and all day long; so, within the week I found myself hunting for larger cigars than I had been used to smoke; then larger ones still, and still larger ones." The famous Henry Clay cigar, named after the American senator, was launched toward the end of the nineteenth century as a premium cigar product. By the end of the nineteenth century there were more than 7,000 cigar factories in the United States, with some 500 located in the state of Florida. Cigar consumption peaked in 1907, after which its popularity waned due, in some measure, to the advent of cigarettes.
Because of their expense, cigars were regarded as a luxury until relatively recently. In 1919 Thomas Riley Marshall, a Democrat and Woodrow Wilson's vice president, grew tired of listening to a Republican senator ramble at length about the country's needs and uttered the now famous line: "What this country needs, is a really good five cent cigar." Nearly forty years later, homogenized tobacco was developed by pulverizing the leaf and then forming the matter into thin sheets, reducing waste. This process, together with machine rolling, invented in the 1920s, resulted in lower prices. Machine-made cigars represented 98 percent of total production in the United States by the end of the 1950s.
Cigar Consumption Today
For nearly thirty years, due largely to the antismoking movement, cigar consumption in the United States has declined from a peak of over 9 billion of all types of cigars in 1964, to a little over 2 billion in 1992. Total consumption in 2002 was close to 4.45 billion, of which about 200 million were premium cigars.
Except in the sanctuary of their own homes, tobacco shops, or in a declining number of cigar-friendly restaurants and bars, it is becoming increasingly difficult for cigar smokers worldwide to enjoy their cigars unhindered. Just as in Victorian England, cigar smoking is again frowned upon in public.
▌ THEO RUDMAN
homogenize to make more uniform in appearance, texture, or quality by mixing and blending; to make alike.