A cigar is a tightly-rolled bundle of dried and fermented tobacco that is ignited so that its smoke may be drawn into the mouth. Cigar tobacco is grown in significant quantities in Brazil, Cameroon, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Canary Islands (Spain), and the Eastern United States.
The word cigar originated from the Spanish cigarro, which in turn probably derives from the Mayan sicar (“to smoke rolled tobacco leaves” – from si’c, “tobacco;”). There is also a possible derivation, or at least an influence, from the Spanish cigarra (“cicada”), due to their similar shape. The English word came into general use in 1730.
Columbus Sails to America
Italian explorer Christopher Columbus sails to the Americas and on October 28, Rodrigo de Xerez and Luis de Torres visit the interior of what would become known as the island of Cuba. Xerez and Torres meet with the natives and witness a strange ritual in which the smoke of burned leaves is inhaled through a pipe. This is Europe’s introduction to the leaves known as Cohiba by the natives, but later called Tobacco (actually the native name for the pipe) upon the explorer’s return to Europe.
Cuban Natives Descend from the Arawaks
The Tainos, Cuban natives descended from the Arawaks, had already shown Spaniards their intricate and laborious processes for growing and processing tobacco. The steps of transplanting seedlings, creating “pilones” for fermentation, and even packaging leaves in palm bark remain the foundations of cigar production today. The indigenous peoples of the Americas were already transplanting seedlings, curing, and fermenting tobacco long before Europeans arrived!
Tobacco Seeds Brought to King Charles V
Conquistador Hernan Cortez brings tobacco seeds back to King Charles V of Spain.
Spain Assumes Control of Cuba
Spain assumed control of Cuba by 1511 and by 1519, the area now known as Havana was settled.
Cultivation of Tobacco
Having developed a taste for the plant, Spanish settlers in Cuba begin to cultivate tobacco for their own personal use. Pipe smoking had spread throughout Europe and reached parts of China, India, and Japan. Settlers begin to cultivate tobacco in Jamestown, Virginia. John Rolfe (husband of Princess Pocohontas) is the first to grow tobacco commercially for export. The settlement of Virginia would not have been as successful if tobacco had not been so profitable. In fact, tobacco production had to be curtailed so that ample food could still be grown.
Authorization of Tobacco Production in Cuba
In 1614, the Spanish crown authorized LA CASA DE CONTRATATACION DE LA HABANA for the development of tobacco production in Cuba. Most of the tobacco was used for snuff, but a small amount was used cigars, mostly produced in the Spanish city of Seville.
The Cigar is Born in Spain
The “Cigar” is born in Sevilla Spain where thousands of laborers give birth to the cigar industry.
The Birth of Cigar Factories
Cigar factories sprout up all across Europe: including Rome, Germany and France.
Introduction of Cigars to the Colonies
British Army Colonel Israel Putnam, later a general for the fledgling United States in the Revolutionary War, introduces cigars to the Colonies (specifically his native Connecticut) upon his return from an expedition to Cuba.
First Cigar Brand Trademark
The Cuban trademark office records the first two applications for cigar brand registrations: B. Rencurrel by Bernardino Rencurrel and later, Hija de Cabañas y Carbajal, by Francisco G. Cabañas.
Legalization of Tobacco Production and Sale in Cuba
King Ferdinand VII, by royal decree, made the production and sale of tobacco a legal endeavor in Cuba. The birth of the Cuban Cigar Industry. Until then, only raw materials came from Cuba. Essentially, for taxation and control purposes, Cigar production in Cuba had been illegal until 1817.
Flor de Tabacos Partagas y Companía Established
Don Jaime Partagas establishes Flor de Tabacos Partagas y Companía on the edge of Old Havana (where it still operates today).
Cuban archives indicate the use of cigar bands.
Increase of Cuban Cigar Exports
Within ten years after Ferdinand’s decree of 1817, exports of Cuban cigars reached 407,000 units. But within 20 years, the industry was firmly established and growing wildly with 4.887 million units exported from 306 factories on the island.
Evolution of Cigar Boxes
Spanish immigrant Ramon Allones introduced a cigar brand named after himself. He is credited with being the first to decorate cigar boxes with brightly-colored lithography.
The Punch Brand
The Punch brand is introduced, trademarked – according to records – “by a German named Stockmann.
Beginning of H. Upmann Brand
The famous brand H. Upmann was begun in Cuba. Reports vary as to whether the brand was started by German banker Hermann Upmann, or his family (which may have actually been named Hupmann). In any case, it quickly became one of the most popular brands made in Havana.
Debut of Partagas Brand
Although there were reports that production started as early as 1827, this is the year generally cited for the debut of the Partagas brand in Havana. Don Jaime Partagas created the line and built his famed factory at Industria 520 this year.
Use of Paper Bands
Innovative Dutch merchant Gustave Bock distinguishes his own cigars by placing a paper band on them.
Exploding Popularity of Cigars
The explosive popularity of tobacco led to exports of 141.6 million Cuban-produced cigars in 1840 and climaxed with a still-standing record of 356.6 million cigars exported in 1855.
Daniel Swisher Receives Small Cigar Business
A Newark, Ohio merchant named Daniel Swisher receives a small cigar business in settlement of a debt. He and his four sons continue to operate it until 1888, when sons John and Harry buy the business from their father.
The First Reader is Introduced
The first reader (“lector” in Spanish) is introduced, reportedly at the El Figaro Factory in Havana, followed in January 1866 at the Partagas Factory. The practice was banned by the Cuban government from 1868-78 and 1895-98; radios were introduced in factories in 1923, first at Cabañas y Carbajal factory. Jose Gener started the Hoyo de Monterrey brand in Havana. At the time of his death in 1900, his factories were reportedly the largest in the world, producing 50 million cigars a year.
Romeo y Julieta Brand
The Romeo y Julieta brand was introduced by Inocencio Alvarez and Mannin Garcia in Havana. It became popular, but it took off after being purchased in 1903 by Pepin Fernandez, who made it a worldwide sensation.
The Ybor City neighborhood in Tampa, Florida was founded by Vincent Ybor. It quickly became the center of cigar-making in America with 60 factories built there by 1910.
Publishing of Bachelor Ballads
English poet Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) publishes a new collection, Bachelor Ballads, including “The Betrothed,” an ode to cigars which included the lines “There’s peace in a Larrañaga, there’s calm in a Henry Clay” and “And a woman is just a woman, but a good Cigar is a Smoke.”
Opening of La Aurora Factory
The La Aurora factory, apparently the first cigar factory to appear in the Dominican Republic, is opened by Don Eduardo Leon Jimenes. The La Aurora brand is still made there today.
Battle Against Counterfeiting
In order to battle counterfeiting, the Cuban government authorized (on July 16) a warranty seal to be placed on all cigars produced in the country. The original style of seal was changed in 1931 to the type seen today.
The Arturo Fuente Cigar Company is founded by Arturo Fuente, a Cuban-born cigar maker who had moved to Tampa, Florida after the Spanish-American War. Fuente ran the company until his son Carlos took control in 1960.
U.S. government statistics show 15,732 cigar-making factories to be active in the U.S., making 6.6 million cigars in total. The total number of factories declined continuously from this figure, falling to 9,877 factories in service by 1924 and less than 5,000 (4,905) by 1935.
Cigar Rolling Machine
The cigar rolling machine is introduced in America just as Cuban cigar making is reaching the pinnacle of achievement.
In his autobiography, Cigar Family, A 100 Year Journey in the Cigar Business, Stanford Newman
One of the enduring images of American politics, the “smoke-filled room” was first used to describe the behind-the-scenes maneuvering which led to the nomination of Warren G. Harding to be the Republican Party nominee for President of the United States in June of 1920. The room itself was reportedly Suite 404 of the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago, although other sources say the room in question was on the eighth floor. The phrase “smoke-filled room” was taken from an Associated Press dispatch which reported “Harding of Ohio was chosen by a group of men in a smoke-filled room.”
Consolidated Cigar Corporation
After three years of discussions and negotiations, six regional cigar companies are merged into Consolidated Cigar Corporation, led by Julius Lichtenstein of the American Sumatra Tobacco Co. The company’s first national success came with the promotion of Dutch Masters, a brand originally owned by the G.H. Johnson Cigar Co.
Cigar Rolling Machine’s Introduction to Cuba
The first cigar-making machines are introduced in Cuba at the Por Larrañaga factory. The machines caused an uproar, finally leading to a strike and the machines were removed in 1937.They were re-introduced to stay in 1950 at the La Corona, Partagas and Por Larrañaga factories.
Acquisition of G.H.P. Cigar Company
Consolidated Cigar acquires the G.H.P. Cigar Company and its El Producto brand, promoted by Vaudeville star George Burns.
The Retail Tobacco Dealers of America
The Retail Tobacco Dealers of America is formed with New York tobacconist William A. Hollingsworth as its first President. The first RTDA national convention and trade show is held in New York, which would be the only site for the event through 1980.
The Montecristo Brand
The Montecristo brand was introduced by Alonso Menendez shortly after his purchase of the Particulares S.A, factory in Havana. The brand became an overnight sensation and in 1937, the Menendez & Garcia firm purchased the H. Upmann factory from J. Frankau, S.A., where the brand was made thereafter.
Publishing of Dictionary of Cigar Terminology
The Technical Director of the Comision Nacional de la Propaganda y Defensa del Tabaco Habano, Jose Perdomo, publishes Lexico Tabacalero Cubano, a complete dictionary of Cuban cigar terminology. The book lists 40 companies and 307 brands are listed as being produced in Havana in 1940.
Opening of H. Upmann Factory
The famed H. Upmann factory at 407 Amistad Street, just around the corner from the Partagas factory in downtown Havana, was opened. It continued operation as the home of H. Upmann, Montecristo and other brands until 2003 when a new H. Upmann factory was opened.
Sir Winston Churchill Visits Havana
Sir Winston Churchill visits Havana, including a trip to the Romeo y Julieta factory. Thereafter, the Clemenceau size (7 inches by 47 ring), originally introduced in 1918 to honor French Premier Georges Clemenceau after World War I is also named for Churchill. Production of the Clemenceau finally ended in the 1980s, but the Churchill is going strong.
Fidel Castro Takeover
Revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro took over the government on January 2. Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution instigate a mass exodus of Cuban cigar makers to the Canary Islands, Dominican Republic, Central America, and the United States.
At the time, H. Upmann was the leading Cuban brand by sales volume. Its parent, Menendez & Garcia, exported nearly five million cigars to the U.S. annually, to sell for between 50 cents and $1.25 each.
According to the January 1 edition of the Tarifa de los Precios de Venta de Cigarros de la Isla de Cuba, there are 140 brands in production and 999 in-production shapes.
Nationalization of Cuban Cigar Industry
Following the takeover of Cuba by Fidel Castro and his fellow revolutionaries, the Cuban cigar industry is nationalized in October. Many firms are closed and owners of many of the most famous brands leave the island. For the first time, boxes of cigars produced in Cuba are stamped “Hecho en Cuba” instead of “Made in Havana-Cuba.”
In the U.S., the Eisenhower Administration imposes a partial economic embargo on October 19, but food and medicine are excluded.
Expansion of Economic Embargo
U.S. President John F. Kennedy expands the partial economic embargo of 1960, banning all trade except for non-subsidized sales of foods and medicines, on February 7. On March 23, the embargo is expanded to cover imports of all goods made from or containing Cuban materials, even if made in other countries, effectively ending imports of Havana cigars to the U.S. Before the embargo took effect, however, Kennedy had his Press Secretary, Pierre Salinger, obtain more than 1,000 of Kennedy’s favorite cigars, the H. Upmann Petit Upmann, for his personal enjoyment.
A national tobacco monopoly in Cuba, the Empresa Cubana del Tabaco, better known as Cubatabaco, is formed.
Alternative to Cuban Tobacco
Beginning of the Cohiba Brand
On a tip from a staff member, Fidel Castro becomes enamored with a blend by roller Eduardo Rivera that becomes the Cohiba brand. Factory production of the brand begins at the El Laguito factory in 1967 with Rivera in charge; Avelino Lara took control of the brand from 1970 until his retirement in 1994.
Purchases made by General Cigar Co.
General Cigar Co. purchases Gradiaz Annis & Co., makers of the popular Gold Label brand, and also acquires the Temple Hall factory in Jamaica. The latter is home to brands including Creme de Jamaica and Temple Hall and owns a trademark for a little-known brand called Macanudo.
In the aftermath of F. Palicio y Compania, S.A. v. Brush, 256 F.Supp. 481 (S.D.N.Y. 1966), aff’d, 375 F. 2d 1011 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 389 U.S. 830 (1967), production for the U.S. market of the Cuban brands Hoyo de Monterrey and Punch brands (among others) begins in Honduras.
US Federal Court Cases
By November, a series of U.S. Federal court cases, including Alfred Dunhill of London, Inc., vs. Republic of Cuba, 425 U.S. 682 (1976) and Menendez vs. Faber, Coe & Gregg, Inc., 345 F. Supp. 527 (S.D.N.Y. 1972), aff’d sub nom, Menendez v. Saks & Co., 485 F.2d 1355 (2d Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 425 U.S. 991 (1976) established the ownership of Cuban brand names and trademarks in the former owners whose assets were nationalized by the Castro regime. Shortly thereafter, non-Cuban versions of H. Upmann made in the Canary Islands of Spain and Partagas, made in Jamaica, appeared on the U.S. market.
A new premium cigar factory called the Manufactura de Tabacos, S.A. or “MATASA” for short opens under the direction of President Manuel Quesada.
Standardization of Cigar Shapes
Carlos Fuente Closes Tampa-Area Factory
Carlos Fuente closes his Tampa-area machine-made cigar factory, asking Stanford Newman of M&N cigar Manufacturers to make his cigars for him. Fuente decides to concentrate on handmade cigars in the Dominican Republic and agrees to make the La Unica brand.
The Allure of Cuban Cigars
In February, The Wine Spectator publishes a richly-illustrated cover story on “The Allure of Cuban Cigars.” The strong positive reaction to the issue confirms the publisher’s strategy to launch a cigar-themed magazine — Cigar Aficionado — in the fall of the same year. New strains of tobacco called Habana-92 and Habana-2000 are introduced in Cuba to combat disease and increase yields.
American Cigar Consumption Bottoms Out
American cigar consumption bottoms out at 3.42 billion units, an average of 13 cigars per capita. The number of cigars consumed dropped in 19 of the 20 years following the 1973 high, with overall use down 69.5% in that period.
Imports of premium cigars, however, reach new highs at 126.9 million (a 15% increase), including 57 million from the D.R. and 44 million from Honduras.
Explosion of Imports
Imports explode! Total imports for the year total 146 million cigars, another 15% increase over the previous year. Dominican imports reach a dizzying 67 million, with 52.5 million from Honduras.
Habanos S.A. is created as the marketing and distribution arm of Cuban cigar industry and a Habanos sticker is placed on the corner of all boxes of cigars made in Havana.
On July 21, California Assembly Bill 13 becomes law (now Cal. Labor Code sec. 6404.5), banning smoking from most indoor areas effective January 1, 1995.
The Cigar Boom
The Cigar boom is official. Overall cigar sales increase for the second year in a row, this time by 8.7%. Imports of premium cigars rise by a stunning 33.3% to 194,547,000. The number of brands in circulation rises by 23% to 457.
Continuation of Cigar Expansion
The cigar expansion continues unabated. Sales rise 13.5% to 4.588 billion and imports of premium cigars go wild, up 64% to 319,748,000. Dominican imports top 100 million for the first time at 138,622,000. Entrepreneurs are everywhere, introducing 202 new brands — a 44% rise — to bring the total to 659.
At the trade level, the absolute height of The Boom comes during the August, 1996 Retail Tobacco Dealers of America trade show in Cincinnati. With shortages of name brand cigars and accessories everywhere, literally anything sells. Retailers place huge orders hoping to obtain 10, 25 or 50 percent of the order in time for the holiday season. A feeding frenzy which had not been seen — and may not be seen again — for a long time
The Tabacalera A. Fuente introduces its long-promised all-Dominican brand, the Fuente Fuente Opus X — better known as Opus X — which is offered in such small quantities and is so sought after as to make it rarer, pricier and more sought-after than virtually any Havana-made cigar. Available only in the eastern part of the U.S., asking prices in some shops top $50 per cigar, many times the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. This achievement in cigar-making and cigar-marketing is perhaps an appropriate icon for The Boom and its transformation of an industry thought to be all but dead just a few years earlier.
Opening of Central Cigars/Cigar Sales Hit It’s Highest Point
Greg Haddad opens Central Cigars in Downtown Saint Petersburg, FL; Downtown St. Petersburg’s first cigar lounge, offering the premier cigar selection in the area.
The pop culture rocket which is cigars hits its highest point. Total cigar sales soar to unimaginable levels, ending at 5.16 billion units, another increase of 12 percent. Imports of premium cigars are way up, with 417.8 million units (an increase of 72 percent!) added to an increasing total of domestically-produced cigars as the U.S.-based hand-made industry is revived. Imports from the Dominican Republic alone total 209,374,000, a 40-fold increase in 20 years!
The end of the Boom was also declared, however, at year’s end. A November issue of Barron’s reviewed the cigar craze and declared that the heady days of double-digit sales and price increases were over and that consumption would level off. Right on the money.
Purchasing of 50% Stake in Habanos S.A.
In October, Altadis S.A. buys a 50% stake in Habanos S.A., the distribution and marketing arm of the island’s cigar industry, for about $477 million.
In November, the Cubans introduce the Edicion Limitada series, a specific set of individual cigars from various brands to be produced in limited quantities and with two-year aged wrappers.
Rise of Imports Continues
U.S. cigar imports rise for the third straight year to 274.57 million, with the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua accounting for 97.8% of the total.
A smoking ban in passes in Florida, so plans to hold the 2003 RTDA Convention and International Trade Show in Orlando are scrapped and the show is moved to Nashville, Tennessee.
C.A.O. Opens It’s Own Factories
Cigar maker C.A.O. opens its own factories in both Honduras and Nicaragua, both purchased from the Toraño family.
Death of Stanford Newman
Stanford Newman dies at age 90 in Tampa, Florida on August 17. Over his 72-year career, his father’s company, M&N Cigar Manufacturers, became a national force in cigars, popularizing the use of Cameroon leaf (1963), was one of the first to market first-quality cigars in bundles (1986) and introducing Arturo Fuente cigars to a national audience (1990). M&N Cigars, named for a 1927 merger between the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. and the Mendelsohn Cigar Co., returned to its roots and was renamed the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. in 1997.