Tobacco was first used by the peoples of the pre-Columbian Americas. Native Americans apparently cultivated the plant and smoked it in pipes for medicinal and ceremonial purposes. On October 12, 1492, in the gulf of San Salvador in the Bahamas, Christopher Columbus discovered tobacco. He and his crew saw the natives there growing the tobacco and soon realized that it would become a valuable commodity.
The name tobacco and its origin are still being debated. The word tobacco was used among pre-Columbian natives of the West Indies. Those who took it back with them called it tobacco; the Mayan verb "sikar" meaning "to smoke" later became the Spanish noun cigarro.
The largest of the islands Columbus would claim for Spain he named Isla Juana in honor of the ruler of Catile. Later it would be known as Fernandina. Native Taino Indians called it Colba, which Spanish tongues twisted into "Cuba." They also had a name for the curious dried leaves they set on fire in order to inhale the smoke - cojoba or cohiba.
Jean Nicot & Tobacco
Jean Nicot experimented with crushed tobacco leaves used as a snuff for curing migraine headaches.
In 1560, Nicot gave a sample of this home remedy to Catherine de Medici who also suffered from chronic migraines. It was effective in relieving her headaches and the popularity of tobacco snuff grew among the aristocracy
In fact, people became so enthusiastic about its powers that tobacco became known as "Herba Medicea" or "Herba Catherinea".
Christopher Columbus brought a few tobacco leaves and seeds with him back to Europe, but most Europeans didn't get their first taste of tobacco until the mid-16th century, when adventurers and diplomats like France's Jean Nicot - for whom nicotine is named - began to popularize its use. It was the Portuguese who did most to convert the rest of the world. Portugal was the first to cultivate the tobacco plant outside of the Americas, its introduction having occurred around 1512. By 1558, snuff was on sale in the markets of Lisbon.
In full growth the tobacco plant stands as tall as a man. A scientist, Karl Von Line, counted 40,320 seeds in one pod, meaning a single plant had the potential to yield a million seeds. Experiments were conducted to see if tobacco might be grown at home, thereby saving the costs of transportation from the West Indies. The results were disappointing; it was easiest to buy tobacco where it grew naturally.
Among non-Iberians who developed a liking for tobacco were the English, who had to pay a fancy price to import it from their archenemy, Spain. Ultimately, the cost of the "Spanish" tobacco drove the English into an effort to produce an acceptable English tobacco grown in the new and thriving colony of Virginia. The first successful commercial crop was cultivated in Virginia in 1612 by Englishman John Rolfe. Within seven years, it was the colony's largest export. Over the next two centuries, the growth of tobacco as a cash crop fueled the demand in North America for slave labor.
Not every one had something good to say about tobacco. King James the First said smoking tobacco was "a custom loathsome to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible stygian smoke in the pit that is bottomless." However, what was proved to be most "pestiferous" to the state in the face of King James' efforts at prohibition was an immediate increase in tobacco smuggling and the invention of clever ways to circumvent the law.
Before long, farmers in Connecticut, who had been growing tobacco since they found Native Americans producing it in the earliest years of the colony, were attempting to grow the Cuban variety from seed for manufacturing into cigars in factories in Hartford. Unfortunately, it was never as close or as good as the real thing. By 1880, the only states in the Union lacking a cigar factory where Montana and Idaho. The chief source of cigars smoked in the United States in the nineteenth century was the West Indies, especially Cuba.
The cigar had obtained a great deal of popularity in the first half of the nineteenth century, but the period involving the Civil War could easily be called the Golden Age of the Cigar in The United States.
By the year of Victoria's Diamond Jubilee (1898) the annual consumption of cigars in the U.S. had surpassed 4 billion. So great was the demand for tobacco in all its forms that in 1913 domestic output totaled 266,678 tons. In 1920 the number of cigars sold had reached 7 billion. One writer said "The weight of the tobacco consumed in the U.S. in a year is equal to the weight of the entire and combined populations of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, and the District of Columbia." Everyone who wished to smoke, no matter his financial means, could find a cigar of agreeable flavor at a reasonable price.
Cigar smoking enjoyed consistent support until the downfall of Cuban cigars, when Fidel Castro emerged in Cuba in 1959 and toppled the hated government of dictator Fulgencio Batista. Suddenly, an island that since Columbus's arrival was called "Pearl of the Antilles" was now looked upon aghast and with alarm while it was bitterly denounced a dreaded "Red toehold in the Western Hemisphere" and "a Communist threat ninety miles from Miami".
When John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960, plans to land Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs, covertly supported by the Central Intelligence Agency and elements of the U.S. military, were passed to his administration. The landings resulted in disastrous defeat in the spring of 1961. Angered by the efforts to dispose him, Castro strengthened his ties with the Soviets. A year and a half later the alliance provoked the Cuban Missile Crisis, driving the world to the brink of nuclear war.
American retaliation against Castro took the form of an economic embargo but, according to JFK's press secretary Pierre Salinger, not until Kennedy assured himself a stockpile of his favorite Havana's. Called into the Oval office one afternoon, Salinger was ordered to obtain a thousand Petit Upmanns by the next morning. He returned and proudly reported completion of the assignment. With a satisfied smile Kennedy opened his desk, took out a long sheet of paper, and signed his name to it, therewith imposing by the stroke of his pen an embargo on all imports of Cuban cigars that would remain in effect for decades.
The embargo on importation of Havana cigars led directly to an exodus of Cuban cigar makers and the growth of competition in premium cigar manufacturing in the Dominican Republic, Honduras and other Latin American countries.