Explore the Rich History of Cigar Farms in The US

Explore the Rich History of Cigar Farms in The US

Americans have always been innovators. To say we are a melting pot has become somewhat cliché however we do tend to open ourselves up to new ideas from different cultures. And it’s been that way for a few hundred years.

The rich history of cigar farms in the US is one such example. From the earliest days of the Virginia Colony, American soil has cultivated and produced some quality tobacco. Of course the roots of that cash crop date back to Indigenous People. Its quite an interesting story.

Tobacco’s Prehistoric Roots

According to archeologists tobacco was in use long before originally thought. In fact science determined tobacco usage was in vogue some 12,300 years ago, when mammoths and camels roamed the deserts of what is now Nevada and Utah. As tobacco usage evolved the archeologists concur that tobacco was commonly smoked in Mayan culture as is evidenced by some ancient Mayan pottery depicting tobacco harvest.

Fast forward a few thousand years and Christopher Columbus was introduced to the practice of smoking tobacco by the Taino, the Indigenous People of the Caribbean, likely as part of a welcome ceremony. The Taino smoked their tobacco in very rudimentary cigars. Columbus and his crew brought some seeds and leaves of tobacco back to Europe with them where the practice soon caught on.

The Beginning of Cigar Farms

Tobacco farming has a long and rich history in the United States. Dating back to colonial times and when European settlers first began to arrive. These early settlers found cigar tobacco flourishing in the Connecticut River Valley. Tended by the Indigenous People the tobacco was mainly smoked by pipe.

The tobacco grown in Connecticut was primarily a southern strain brought north from Virginia. The combination of sandy soil and a short and hot growing season made for excellent tobacco. In fact the soil in Connecticut has been compared to the tobacco producing soil of Cuba’s best growing regions and Nicaragua as well. Because of the region's proximity to Windsor, Connecticut this strain of soil is dubbed “Windsor Soil”.

Massachusetts-born Lt. Col Israel “Old Put” Putnam, an officer in the British Navy, as the colonies still fell under British rule at the time, proved instrumental to the growth of cigar farms in the US. Old Put as he was known took up farming in Connecticut in 1740. Then, in 1762, Old Put serving in his military role, was part of the British Invasion of Havana. Fortune would have it that the Lt. Col was shipwrecked in Cuba.

Old Put survived his mishap and departed Cuba with an untold amount of tobacco seeds and over 30,000 Cuban cigars. When he returned to his Connecticut farm he planted the seeds and what grew is a part of history and still coveted today-the first of the Connecticut wrapper.

The Early Commercial Cigar Market

Cigar smoking in the 1770s involved a rudimentary product. The cigars were typically rolled by the wives of tobacco farmers. These New England tobacco farmers grew wrappers that were somewhat crude. Dark and hearty they were not even close to today’s Connecticut Shade, a preferred wrapper among cigar aficionados. But the cigar farms in the US were beginning to take hold and the farmers experimented with seeds imported from tobacco-growing regions all over. These tobaccos evolved into the excellent quality cigars we know today.

In the 1800s most of the cigars being smoked in the US and even in Europe were made domestically. Even though these American-made stogies were thoroughly enjoyable, the preferred cigars were coming from Cuba. Because Cuban cigars were thought to be far superior to any other, the demand was high. Cuban cigar makers began importing tobacco, including the Connecticut wrappers, from the US where the farms were primarily in the New England states.

Cigar Farms and Factories in the US

By the end of the 1800s the US experienced a thriving tobacco economy. Tobacco was growing throughout the Connecticut River Valley and cigar farms in the US were having their day! Over 40,000 cigar factories were producing cigars to satisfy domestic and European customers. The booming cigar industry in the US continued to thrive well into the 1900s until the stock market crash in 1929.

After World War II things began to pick back up. The easy camaraderie between the US and our neighbor 70 miles south of the Florida coast, Cuba, helped feed the need for stogies. Then came the 1960s and with it the Cuban embargo.

The Cuban Embargo and Its Effect on The US Cigar Market

The embargo had a profound impact on the cigar industry and cigar farms in the US. Because the cuban leaf tobacco that had been used by what American cigar factories there were was no longer available. The innovative Americans rose to the challenge and once again studied the art of growing tobacco. The modern cigar industry was born.

As many Cubans fled Castro’s rule they headed to other countries such as Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and the US. Among those who chose to flee were experienced torcedores or cigar rollers. These cigar artisans taught their craft to others in their adopted home country and cigar factories opening in these places. The coveted Connecticut Shade combined with some of the high quality tobacco from the US cigar farms easily satisfied even the most critical cigar lover.

A Resurgence of Cigar Farms Today

With the surge in cigar smoking that has taken place in the last few decades we’re once again seeing tobacco farms exclusively growing cigar tobacco. Cigar wrappers are still a specialty crop and are still being grown in the New England states, primarily where it originated in the Connecticut River Valley.

But it's not just about the wrapper. Very highly rated filler tobaccos are grown in North Carolina and Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Kentucky which have the unique, to borrow a word from French vintners, terroir. That is, the combined influence of sun, wind, climate and soil and its impact on the different qualities of tobaccos. American Tobacco farms are having a moment that seems like it will last a long, long time.

Here for You

If you would like to know more about domestic cigars or you’re looking for that perfect Father’s Day gift for the cigar lover in your life please contact Northwoods Humidors.

15th May 2024 Colleen D.

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