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Great Moments In Cigar History: The Nineteenth Century

Feb 10, 2008
Some businesses just are romantic than others.

For example, compare winemaking with toothpick-making. Now, the wine business is, on a day-by-day basis, anything but one ecstatic Cabernet Sauvignon after another. You have to handle distribution, advertising, labor, storage - one prosaic detail after another. And the toothpick isn't nearly as boring as it looks - science journalist Henry Petroski has devoted, in fact, an entire book to it, The Toothpick, which, critics say, makes unexpectedly fascinating reading. The toothpick even has its own little place in literary history - it's the business by which Chad Newsome, hero of Henry James's great novel The Ambassadors, is said to have earned his living.

Still - would you rather get seated at a party next to a wine guy, or a toothpick guy?

Most of us would feel the same way about the cigar business - that it's somehow more exciting than most other industries, including that of the workaday, assembly-line-made cigarette. In this case, perhaps history bears out our intuitions. Take a look at some of the great moments in the history of cigars, all taken from one tumultuous century - the nineteenth.

1810: The branding of cigars begins in - where else? - Cuba, where the first two applications to register a cigar brand are recorded: B. Rencurrel and Hija de Cabanas y Carbajal. Also, cigar workshops appear for the first time in the newly-minted United States.

1817: Spain ends its monopoly over the tobacco grown in its former colony, Cuba, when King Ferdinand VII signs a bill allowing for private growing and selling of tobacco, as well as cigar production and sales.
1800s-1820s: Cigar manufacture spreads north from Spain to France, Germany, and (later) England.

1836: Cuba's cigar export market reaches 4.887 million units and 306 factories, thanks in part to the lifting of the Spanish monopoly nineteen years earlier.

1837: Remember cigar boxes - those nostalgic, brightly-illustrated items that signify the higher standards of an earlier era in the history of product packaging? Well, that tradition begins in this year, when Ramon Allones creates his same-named cigar. His company is the first to use intricate lithography to set boxes of his cigars apart from other brands.

1840: Tobacco grows in popularity, and cigar export from Cuba alone surpasses 141.6 million.

1844: H. Upmann, one of the most famous of all cigar brands, is introduced in Cuba. How's that spelled? No one is really sure - the brand may have been inaugurated by Hermann Upmann, a German banker, or by his family, who (to confuse matters further) may have been named Hupmann.

1845: Debut of Partagas and La Corona cigars, both in Havana.

1850s: Tobacco's popularity scales new heights when, during the Crimean War (1853-1856), Turkish tobacco - the lusty, semi-sweet, full-flavored tobacco that makes Middle Eastern travel such a joy for the nonallergic - achieves general availability in Europe for the first time. Smoking rooms, smoking jackets, even smoking caps and slippers become part of every Victorian gentleman's home, and fashion plate Prince Edward, despite his mother Queen Victoria's well-known hatred of smoking, promotes smoking by his own well-remarked example. In 1855, the decade's halfway point, Cuba exports 356.6 million cigars - a record yet to be equaled.

1861: Birth of Swisher Cigars when Ohio businessman Daniel Swisher, collecting a debt, is paid in the form of a small cigar business.

1861-1865: United States Civil War leads to further popularity of cigar smoking, as young men away from home (and under great stress) take up the habit.

1865: To many contemporary Americans, the word "lector" makes us think of Hannibal. But for cigar workers in Spanish-speaking countries, it has altogether more pleasant associations, because in this year, the practice of hiring people to read to cigar rollers ("readers," or, in Spanish, "lectors") is inaugurated in Cuba (where else?), at the El Figaro factory. This practice is so popular that, in 1868 and again in 1895, it is banned by the Cuban government for a period (ten years the first time, three the second). Apparently those cigar workers were getting too knowledgeable for (their rulers') comfort. Maybe we could bring this custom to other industries?

1873: Romeo y Julieta cigars introduced by Inocencio Alvarez and Mannin Garcia.

1886: Ybor City neighborhood in Tampa, Florida, a regional center of cigar production, is founded by Vincent Ybor.

1898: Rudyard Kipling writes the line "A woman is a just a women, but a good cigar is a smoke," linking misogyny and cigar-smoking in the minds of thousands of Edwardian gentlemen. Generations of female smokers and, later, female cigar execs will beg to differ.
About the Author
CigarFox provides the finest cigars that include cigar brands like cohiba, gurkha and many more. Other cigar products include cigar humidors, cigar boxes, and cigar accessories like Zippo Lighters.
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