Tobacco was hidden away from the eyes of the civilized world for centuries, with indigenous Native American tribes cultivating it for medicinal and religious purposes for hundreds of years. Tobacco then slowly started gaining traction amongst many cultures and nations like China and the USA, especially in the 19th century. Its value as a commodity increased over time as the demand for it grew as well. Little by little, the hefty and big cigars we see today became a branded symbol of status and fame.
Tobacco itself wasn’t expensive enough to be viewed as a luxurious commodity, especially since cigarettes were available at low prices. The most notable event in cigar history is when the ban was lifted on smoking in public by King Edward VII. In this article, we’ll try to closely follow the rise of cigars as a status symbol for the rich and famous, mostly during the 20th century.
The Historical Prohibitive Roots
Since cigar production was very limited in the 20th century, in addition to being prohibited by many countries, it became harder for the common people to get their hands on cigars. Cigars are usually composed of 3 different types of tobacco leaves, and they required a lot of time and manual labor to create. As can be seen today on www.gothamcigars.com, premium cigars are still handmade to this day, using different varieties of tobacco for the internal and external composition of cigars. The various premium brands of cigars are creating special types to accommodate all tastes, from light and creamy to rough and thick cigars. This made them significantly more expensive than run-of-the-mill cigarettes that were available everywhere.
Powerful Figures Smoking Cigars
It’s hard to point to only one person who takes the credit for creating the buzz for cigars, but Churchill is a pretty close point to the target. During the Second World War, it’s almost impossible to find footage of Churchill without a fine cigar in his mouth. For him, it symbolized more than just wealth and power. It was a symbol of defiance for everything he was fighting against. He puffed the cigar as a way to metaphorize the British strength against Nazi Germany, blowing the smoke into the air, just like how the British would blow the Nazis out of water.
It wasn’t only Churchill that adored the cigar; many public figures who were considered as symbols of defiance like Fidel Castro and Che Guevara also smoked cigars like there was no tomorrow. Cuba’s pride in the manufacturing of cigars added a lot to its exclusivity. It was made elaborately and manually, taking its long and sweet time, which added significantly to its costs. Politicians, movie stars, and even underground kingpins smoked cigars, making it a symbol of extreme wealth, social status, and power. Even Freud praised cigars as “a great intensification of my capacity to work and facilitation of my self-control.”
The US Ban of Cuban Cigars
The trade embargo established by the US against Cuba meant that the Cuban cigars had become a commodity that’s illegal to purchase or sell in the USA. The infamous event that happened during the Cold War, the nuclear warfare threat, has even added more restrictions on the trade embargo. Open trade with Cuba was viewed as direct support of communism, which made matters more complicated. The trade embargo still hasn’t been lifted, and it’s been almost 60 years. Before 2004, even consuming Cuban cigars were considered illegal. This has all helped in cementing cigar as a symbol of defiance, status, and wealth because it was tough to obtain in the USA.
The popularity of cigars in the 20th and 21st centuries had a direct relationship with corporate organizations and the stock market. According to statistics over many years, the better the status of the market and trading economy, the more cigars became popular. During the decline of market affairs, the consumption of cigars was reduced. This means that the number of successful traders and magnates smoking cigars during prosperous economic times is an indicator of its link to wealth and status.
Hollywood is considered one of the most significant contributors to cigars’ fame. Movies began to heavily use cigars as a way to portray an image of a wealthy and successful individual. The Fat Cat persona and dangerous attitude were all images that were simply enhanced by the implementation of cigars. Whether it’s a ruthless mob boss or a greedy businessman sitting at the top of the food chain, cigars were always accompanying them in their journey to the top.
Throughout the years, the expensive nature of cigars made it appealing for the rich and powerful people to smoke it. Instead of smoking regular cigarettes like ordinary people, they preferred premium cigars because they were much harder to get. Private clubs were filled with extremely powerful people who smoked cigars as a way to show-off status in the 20th century. Even the Titanic had a private smoking room locked and stocked with 8,000 cigars for its elite on-boarders.