The Story of Cigars

"Why do we care about the history of cigars and cigar making? Because the smoking of a fine cigar is a time for contemplation, relaxation, and appreciation of the unique attributes of each cigar. Knowing about the history and the craft of cigar making enhances this experience and makes each new smoke even more memorable."

                                                                Ray Parden

Some years back I was employed in a company where the owner smoked cigars. I can well remember saying aloud (before the entire office) that his cigars 'stank'! The office staff was appalled by this genuine candor and presumed that I would soon disappear as quickly as many other outspoken dissenters. As it turned out I left that job before anything could transpire though I frequently recall the incident. 

Shortly thereafter I was witness to a mature woman seemingly imprisoned inside a Cadillac with the windows up while the driver (or perhaps husband) puffed away on a cigar. All I could think of was how terrible it must be for her. I remember thinking he was an inconsiderate, domineering baboon and I'd never even met him! I would certainly never have imagined that years later I would be sitting in the library along with a group of friends chatting pleasantly and all the while puffing idly on a nice cigar.

Some say the term 'tobacco' comes to us from the Arawak Indians. Apparently Christopher Columbus witnessed people on the island of Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic) utilizing a tube shaped device to smoke a substance referred to as 'tobago'. A few say that the word 'tobago' comes from the island of Tobago, while even others feel that the term stems from the 'Tabasco' region of Mexico. Certain natives of Hispaniola and Cuba did in fact refer to tobacco as 'cohiba' or 'cojoba'. 

Interestingly the word cigar appears to relate back to a Mayan verb pronounced 'sikar' which means 'to smoke'. A French explorer named Jean Nicot was responsible for introducing Spain and Portugal both to tobacco as a form of recreation. Incidentally, it is from his name that we derive the term 'nicotine'. 

Most historians agree that the first tobacco fields were planted and cultivated by the American Indian. It was in the early 16th century that both Virginia and Maryland were cultivating tobacco for commerce, though largely for use in pipes.  Israel Putnam was a member of the British military serving in Cuba. In 1762 he returned to Connecticut along with rolled cigars and a great quantity of tobacco plants. The cigar industry began at Hartford in earnest with the cultivating of those Cuban plants. 

The smoking of cigars rather caught on shortly after the civil war. A somewhat famous early cigar manufacturer from Conestoga, Pennsylvania gave us the term 'stogie'. 

"What this country really needs is a good five cent cigar!" 

Thomas Marshall, Vice President under Woodrow Wilson 1919

Cigars have today become emblematic of the rich and powerful. Historical icons appear in photos featuring their beloved past time. Henry Clay, Winston Churchill, Fidel Castro, George Burns and of course Bill Clinton. David Letterman relented for reasons of health. However, Jim Belushi, Leonardo DeCaprio, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger,  Mr. Stallone and James Woods as well as many others have adorned the covers of Cigar Aficionado magazine (even Sharon Stone). Perhaps more business is conducted over a cigar than even on the golf course. 

Cigars differ from cigarettes and pipes in many ways. Unlike cigarettes, a cigar smoker enjoys tobacco once or twice a day. A moment of interlude is selected and the experience is really quite social. Just as a pipe, the cigar is never inhaled. Pipe smokers, however, must develop quite a maintenance skill along with techniques for keeping  their pipe lighted. Subtle differences in the rolling (handmade or machine) and the wrapper and the dimensions actually make a difference in the smoking experience.

To my knowledge people have widely different reactions to cigar smoke. Some are appalled to encounter the volumes of smoke a cigar produces. Many others enjoy the aroma while still others hold their breath and run! 

My friend Rick states that he isn't attracted to the smoking experience at all, he just likes the privacy! Clearly it is not for everyone.

                           Steve D