04 June 2020
The History of Tobacco
Tobacco has a long history, spanning well over thousands of years. Earliest visible signs were seen through carved drawings in stone that were made by the Mayan Indians of Mexico. These drawings date back to between 600 and 900AD. However, experts believe that tobacco has been growing since as far back as 6000BC and think Native American inhabitants began finding ways to smoke it around two thousand years ago.
Native Americans were thought to smoke tobacco as medicine and occasionally for religious ceremonies, where the earliest signs depict a Mayan smoking a role of tobacco leaves tied with a string. The Native Americans continued using tobacco themselves for several hundred years, where it was confined to its originating areas, before the arrival of Christopher Columbus.
Christopher Columbus was a navigator and explorer who made the famous voyage during the year 1492 between Spain and the West Indies that lead to the successful European colonization of the Americas.
Though Christopher Columbus was not the first to reach the Americas, he made four voyages that made the way for trans-Atlantic navigation that went on to facilitate the European conquest of the New World. This subsequently led to the discovery of many islands in the Caribbean and allowing the mapping of the coast of Central and South America.
While Columbus wasn't the first to land in America, he was certainly the first European to come into contact with tobacco, where locals offered it to him during their first meeting. At the time of receiving the tobacco, he had no idea what to do with the tobacco, and subsequently threw the strange dried out leaves overboard his ship a few days later. As time passed and Columbus grew more knowledgeable about the discovered land and its people, he soon learned the habit of smoking cigarettes and pipe tobacco and took it back to Europe with him. Although it took up to a century for most countries to adopt smoking tobacco, this encounter marked the beginning of tobacco's mainstream consumption across the world as we know it.
Introducing tobacco to the world
Tobacco trade slowly increased and started to gain popularity across a number of different nations around Europe. Further explorers landed in different parts of the Americas and observed cigarette smoking, such as in Mexico and Cuba.
1556 to 1559 saw tobaccos introduced in Spain, Portugal and France, and a few years following, it came to England. As popularity grew, so did the entrepreneurial imagination of a number of businessmen, who began setting up cultivation sites in the parts tobacco would grow quickly.
Around these times, the first books, pictures and reports were created and word circulated about tobacco and the smoking concept. It was used during these times primarily for medicinal use, while it was also popular amongst sailors out at sea.
In the late 1500s, Tobacco had reached the mainstream, yet supplies were still limited, thus a big drive in development and supply followed.
Tobacco grown and sold
Following its discovery and a good initial reception, tobacco became the first crop grown for money in North America. This was done in 1612 by the first settlers of the first American colony in Jamestown, Virginia. The man credited with the first successful cultivation of tobacco in Virginia is the Englishman known as John Rolfe. This soon became their main source of money, but alongside grew cash crops such as corn, cotton, wheat, sugar and soya beans. Within seven years, settlers had made tobacco its largest export and over the next two centuries, growth of tobacco fuelled labour demand, contributing to the North American demand for slave labour.
Over the next two centuries, tobacco popularity continued to rise and it was consumed using different ways. Some people began to chew tobacco, while other placed it inside pipes. It is thought that the average smoker would have smoked around a cigarette a week during this time. Commercial cigarettes were then developed in 1865 by Washington Duke on his 300-acre farm in Raleigh, North Carolina. His hand-rolled cigarettes were sold to soldiers at the end of the Civil War.
The revolutionary cigarette-making machine
The cigarette-making machine was eventually invented, by a man named James Bosnack in 1991. This is the point that cigarette smoking was taken to the masses, as previously each cigarette or cigar had to be hand rolled. Following his invention, Bosnack's cigarette machine was developed so that it could make 120,000 cigarettes per day. He soon went into business with the Washington Duke's son - James "Buck" Duke and built a factory together. In their new factory facility, they made 10 million cigarettes in their first year, and around one billion 5 years later. The first brand of cigarettes was packaged with baseball cards and was called Duke of Durham and was made under the first US tobacco company "American Tobacco Company".
The American Tobacco company was the largest and most powerful tobacco company up until the early 1900s. As World War I set in (1914-18) and thereafter World War II, soldiers out at war were given free cigarettes every day, which also led to home production, generating a market for women that led to tobacco suppliers beginning to target women that are alone while their partners are at war. All smoking methods such as cigarettes, pipes and cigar history followed a similar pathway, with the conflict leading soldiers to enjoy smoking.
By the end of the Second World War, cigarette production had grown to 300 billion a year, with around 75% of them making their way to service men around the world. The two world wars had a very positive effect for the sales of tobacco, with large a number of large companies growing through the effects and influence of this massive demographic. Some of the large American companies formed from this, including Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, American Brands, Lorillard, Brown & Williamson, and Liggett & Myers (now called the Brooke Group).
Nowadays, tobacco is smoked in many forms including cigarettes, cigars, pipes and through chewing. There are a whole host of brands and a huge range in tobacco types and methods of consuming it.