The cigar dates back to the Mayas who grew tobacco for medical purposes in 2500 BC. They also used to snuff and smoke it. During the Age of Discovery, great explorers such as Christopher Columbus, who discovered tobacco in 1492 in a small island in the Lesser Antilles off the coasts of Venezuela, imported it to Europe. Indians named it tzibatl, a name used both to designate the tube used to inhale the smoke and the cigar itself. The Spanish translation became " tabaco ", whereas the Portuguese named it " tabago ". Tobago bears this name.
Sailors reported that Cuban Indians smoked a primitive form of cigar with twisted, dry tobacco, rolled in leaves in the palm of the hand. In due course, Spanish, Portuguese and other European sailors soon caught the habit, as did the Conquistadors.
Tobacco was introduced in the Court of Spain and Portugal, where the seed was first appreciated for its decorative value, later to be considered as a "miraculous" medicine. Tobacco was soon adopted in all its forms during the sixteenth century and at the beginning of the seventeenth century in Spain, Portugal, then in France, and later in Great Britain.
In the 17th century, tobacco became a mass market product, and the first commercial tobacco companies appeared in those days. But there were already some who considered it evil and denounced it.
The word "cigar" originates from sikar, the Mayan-Indian word for smoking, which became cigarro in Spanish. The first forms of cigars, more or less in the form that we know them today, were made in Spain with Cuban tobacco in the 18th century.
Small factories set up in France and Germany, then in the Netherlands. Production of cigars started in Britain at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1821, an Act of Parliament was needed to set out regulations governing their production. Because of an import tax, foreign cigars in Britain were regarded as a luxury item. Soon there was a demand for higher quality cigars. Spanish cigars were superseded by those made in Cuba. 400 factories were created in Cuba during that period of growth. There were not any brands yet, cigars were mass exported then. The image of a strong cigar started in 1840 with Punch.
The cigar probably arrived in North America in 1762, when Israel Putnam returned from Cuba, with a selection of Havana cigars and large amounts of Cuban tobacco seed. In the early 19th century American domestic production started to take off and Cuban cigars also began to be imported in significant numbers.
But cigar smoking did not really boom in the United States until around the time of the Civil War in the 1860s, with individual brands emerging by the late 19th century. By then the cigar had become a status symbol in the United States.
Dutchman Gustave Block's introduced his cigar band to the cigar trade in the 1830's to distinguish his brands from the others and to prevent counterfeiting of Cuban cigars. All manufactures imitated him shortly after. The band also had this advantage that it protected the fingers of the members of the upper class wearing white gloves.
Cigarettes, or paper cigars, first appeared on the scene in the early 19th century as a cheap alternative to cigars. The introduction of cigarette-making machines, in the 1880s, accelerated the growth in popularity of this form of smoking, which had become dominant by World War I. As a response, the production of machine-made cigars began in Cuba in the 1920s, after which both the manufacture and smoking of handmade cigars fell into a slow but steady decline.
In order to protect its production and to fight counterfeit, Cuba developed signs of recognition such as the seal introduced in 1912, and a reciprocity treaty with France in 1929, guaranteeing the respect of the appellations of origin (A.O.C) for both countries. In 1959, Cuba also registered 18 names, including Cuba and Habano.
In the beginning of 2002, Habanos SA, (the state-owned tobacco company) decided to withdraw hundreds of references from its catalog and to focus on 33 major brands, with 250 vitolas and 359 references.
The appellation havana (actually habano) can only be given to a cigar rolled in Cuba, with leaves cropped in Cuba. Five areas grow tobacco: Oriente (Bayamo, Baracoa), Remedios (the area between Sancti Spiritus and Santa Clara), Partidos (near La Havana), Semi-Vuelta et Vuelta Abajo (Pinar del Rio area).
The leaves that make a havana come only from Partido (specialized in the production of wrapper leaves) and Vuelta Abajo. The best leaves are cropped in two villages in Vuelta Abajo : San Luis and San Juan y Martinez.