A cigar is dried and fermented tobacco that is rolled. Once it is lit, its smoke can be drawn into the mouth. Brazil, the Eastern United States, Cameroon, Cuba, Honduras, Mexico, Indonesia, Nicaragua and the Philippines all grow large quantities of tobacco.
Cigar was derived from “sikar”, the Mayan-Indian word for smoking, which was “cigarro” in Spanish. The word and its variations did not come into general use until 1730.
Christopher Columbus is usually credited with bringing tobacco to the “old world”, Europe. Two of his crewmen during the 1492 expedition, Rodrigo de Jerez and Luis de Torres, are thought to have encountered tobacco for the first time on the island of Hispaniola. Natives presented the two with dried leaves that spread a strange fragrance. Tobacco was found in most all of the Caribbean islands that the explorers visited and they are said to have encountered it again in Cuba. His sailors reported that natives on the island of Cuba smoked a form of cigar, with twisted dried tobacco leaves rolled in palm or plantain leaves.
In just a matter of years the sailors caught the habit, as did the conquistadors, and smoking spread to Spain and Portugal and then France. It is thought that French ambassador to Portugal, Jean Nicot, introduced it to the French. He also lent his name to nicotine.
Smoking had spread throughout Europe, in pipes in Britain, by the mid 16th century. 50 years later, tobacco would be grown commercially in America. Spanish cigar maker, Vicente Martinez Ybor moved his operations from Havana, Cuba, to Key West, Florida in 1869 in order to escape the ten Years’ War.
Ybor moved again to Tampa, Florida in 1885, building what at the time was the largest cigar manufacturing factory in the world.
In NY, cigars were made in the homes of workers. In 1883, cigars were being made in 127 apartment houses in NY and 7,924 individuals were employed by the industry.
Today, most cigars are made by machine, but the good ones that aficionados really savor, are still rolled by hand.
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