Cigars, or Sikars, have been with us long before Europeans came to the western hemisphere. Smoking habits were popular among cultures of Mayans and Aztecs, tobacco leafs rolled into a tube shape, although not so tightly rolled as we are familiar with today.
Ramon Pane, a priest who accompanied the second voyage of Columbus introduced smoking to European society. In time, sailors introduced smoking to Spain and Portugal. Jean Nicot, the French ambassador to Portugal, brought tobacco home to France. In time Britain and Italy became acquainted with tobacco.
By the mid-16th century, Europe had embraced tobacco use. Many believed tobacco had medicinal qualities, however, detractors counted among themselves, James I of England and Phillip II of Spain.
The current shape of cigars in America is credited to General Putnam who returned from Cuba in 1762 with a bounty of Havana rolled cigars and Cuban tobacco.
A majority of US citizens were accustomed to cigar smoking only after the Civil War in the late 1860’s. Cigar boxes came about in the US as a means to affix tax stamps to cigar purchases, something impossible on individual cigars.
In Europe and the US, smoking became such a popular habit that smoking coaches in trains and smoking rooms, in clubs and hotels, became commonplace. Cigars were enjoyed with a glass of brandy or port and were associated with a luxury lifestyle.
In the 1920’s, the first machines to make cigars appeared in Cuba. This in response to the invention of the cigarette making mechanism. As a result, the manufacture of hand rolled cigars fell into decline.
By the 1960’s, smoking was declared to harmful to health. Unfortunately, cigars were lumped in with cigarettes, which add filler and chemicals to the chopped tobacco. With the Cuban revolution and resulting US embargo, many Cuban nationals moved factories to Dominican Republic, Honduras, Mexico and other regions.
Today, all premium, hand rolled cigars supplied to the US market are manufactured in these countries. Cuban cigars still hold the mystique of pre-embargo days. Time will tell if the quality of tobacco grown in the other countries and quality control introduced to modern factories will hold up to comparison to the legend of Cuban Cigars.