A World History of the Cuban Classic
Cuban cigars may have some serious competition as the dominant quality blend today, but they will never be replaced as the classic. Cuban cigars have a history that reaches back all the way to the time of Christopher Columbus. Even further still, into times that have passed out of common knowledge.
So, how did the Cuban become the historical cigar blend of world excellence? A story worth telling is worth telling again. As follows, this is the story of the world-wide history of Cuban as the cigar blend par excellence.
Tobacco has been used in the Americas for over a thousand years. Back in those days, the users generally smoked in small clay bowls or pipes. The present form of a cigar, which is the winding of a tight bundle of tobacco, are believed to have come from the ancient Mayans.
When Columbus explored the Americas, he claimed the large island for Spain. He called it Isla Juana in honor of Catile’s governor. The Native Americans who lived there called the island Colba. Somewhere along the way, the name was twisted by the Spanish-speakers to sound like “Cuba”.
Tobacco_the First Cigar
When Columbus assistant scouted ahead of the Spanish party, he encountered the tribal residents of the inner island. His first impression of them was one that captured the past and future of Cuba in a snap shot. They were puffing on tobaccos. Originally this was a tribal dialect word that referred to the long, musket long bar of rolled tobacco leaves that made for the original cigar. The natives would light one end and tote the massive plug along with them on excursions, breathing in their smoke as they recited their belief system’s prayers. They believed the plant gave them mystical powers.
The plant itself is now named after the cigar.
Europe’s failed attempt
Columbus brought some seeds from Colba back to the Iberia in an enterprising attempt. It would be many years before the Spanish cornered the market on premium tobacco. These first few seeds led to a stiff attempt to DIY their tobacco cultivation in Portugal. They made snuff and sold it in Lisbon markets. Still, they had yet to discover that the true essence of cigar craft lay in the soils of Colba.
Spanish commercial launch
Of all the Europeans who took a liking to tobacco, the English became obsessed with it quickly. Things got political fast. The English were sworn enemies of the Spanish. That’s partly why the Spanish-who had a cultivated history with the plant_became so greatly interested in it. They would refine it and then sell it to the English for an outrageous price. One that the English would be ready and willing to pay.
When King James I swore off tobacco as a vile pass-time in English, it made the English delight in it all the more. This skyrocketed the sale of tobacco products on the British Isles. Iberia would have to step up production to meet that demand. The tobacco cultivation experiments in Portugal had only sufficed for the casual habits of the last 16th century. As the 17th century took off with full-force, it was time to fully embrace and commercialize the Spanish cigar trade.
The Wooden “Cigar Store” Statue
At this point in history, America had become the matrix of all luxury products in the whole world’s eyes. That’s where the wooden Native American statute you find in a lot of your favorite cigar shops came from. As the Colonial economy unfolded, many people still couldn’t read. Shopkeepers identified their wares by icon, like a carving or a painting, placed by the door. The wooden Native had become synonymous with tobacco because at this time the European traders were sourcing directly from the Native Americans.
These statues were called Virginians after the largest colony in the English-speaking Americas. They were also called Virginnie men. Rarely, if ever, did they look accurate to a Native American because they were created based on propagandized drawings made by the traders. Many Tribal stereotypes came out of this early period of commerce with early Colonial America.
As told by pirates
Cigars are part of the culture_the heart and the soul_of the pirate world stage. The Caribbean saw the Golden Age of piracy shoot into its full form. That was an age where illegal drug trafficking, bootlegging spirits, and other forms of high sea robbery shot off the charts.
Trade embargoes and smuggling
In the same spirit of the pirate age, trade embargoes inspired smuggling rings. Cigar smuggling became synonymous with other acts of the black market. The history of violence and exclusivity derived from the illegal trafficking industry is where the Hollywood tropes of smoking mob villains got their heaviest momentum.
Gateway to Wall Street
America became a strong nation and became the strongest place on Earth to invest after surviving a Civil War, a Great Depression, and two global conflicts. As these times came along, cigars became the staple of professional and powerful people.
Modern times were the gateway to equality. After so much had happened in the world, people were no longer separated by the barriers of bureaucracy, monarchy and social caste systems.
The Cigar: A social equalizer
In that brave new world, the electrician and the day trader had equal chances of making millions. The sport of the cigar then became a social equalizer. Wherever you were on that ladder of New World influence, you shared the common bond of the cigar.
In this everyman’s world, there came the natural competition that follows people made equals. Smoking competitions were open to people of a variety of professions and ages. They weren’t hosted in some elite gentlemen’s club. They were held in your friendly neighborhood smoke shop. Wall Street Journal shot this footage of a cigar competition in Harlem.
A symbol of power
Winston Churchill could arguably be the man who made cigars a symbol of power. Not because Churchill exercised any extravagant political control_as did his smoking politician counterpart Fidel Castro_ but because from his humidor he managed to steadily lead the British Isles out of World War 2. It was this quiet resolve that added an almost sacredness to the cigar passion in the modern age.
Crackdown on Big Tobacco
In the 90s, the politics and sentiments toward tobacco as an industry caused vicious disapproval of smoking in most polite society rings. The cigar as art and passion was not going anywhere anytime soon. Yet health implications were being discovered.
The FDA commissioned a crackdown on tobacco advertising. The public sentiment of underage smoking changed from the “kids will be kids” mentality to a cause for outcry. Film studios were attacked by the press for potential product placement schemes from premium suppliers. Cigar sales were dominating none the less, driven on by the action heroes that dominated box office titles of this time frame. Favor for the corrupt cigarette industry was fading fast.
The history of the Cuban cigar culture is a Caribbean history, an American history, a Spanish history, a Portuguese history, a British history, and a modern history. These different colors together blend a palette of world history. A world history without the confines of the traditional nationalism, and yet never discouraging the importance of nations.