Cigar History: How C-Store Cigars Came To Dominate The Cigar Industry

Posted by on

Have you ever wondered about the history of cigars? Who were the first people to smoke them? Where did they originate? The history of cigars is complex and quite fascinating. This week, we break down the quick "Cliff-Note" version on how mass market cigars came to dominate the cigar industry.

The Beginning.

It has been documented that in the tenth century a drawing of tobacco leaves bound

Mayan Sikar cartoon

by some sort of string was found on a ceramic Mayan pottery vessel.

The name used for smoking this type of bundle was Sikar. Adopted from that word came the Spanish word, “cigarro” and then the English word Cigar in 1730.


Fast forward to 1492  - Rodrigo de Jerez, part of Christopher Columbus's crew, figured out how to dry tobacco leaves from the native people on the island of Hispaniola. This island is now the Dominican

Christopher Columbus

Republic. The men were taken by the aroma of these leaves. In fact, tobacco was common among all the Caribbean islands and was observed often, especially in Cuba.

It has been reported that the Tainos in Cuba twisted the tobacco leaves and rolled them in palm or plantain leaves and smoked them. As a result, sailors from Spanish and Portuguese expeditions began to smoke them and word spread quickly to Europe of the delights of this newfound pastime.

(Interesting side note - when de Jerez went back to Spain - he was thrown in jail for seven years for smoking! The town thought he may have been demonic because he had smoke coming from his mouth. By the time he was released, smoking had already caught on with the public!)

Cigars in Europe & The United States

Soon after, cigars were being made in Spain, France, and Portugal. From there, the use of cigars spread through Italy to England. Pipe smoking became popular in Britain in the mid-1700s. Because of this, factories started to sprout up in the 1780s in France and Germany.

Tobacco itself became commercially available in the U.S. a hundred years later even

though it is noted that some tobacco was grown in Massachusetts as early as 1610. This tobacco was generally exported to the West Indies where a finished product was then imported back into the U.S.

The cigar industry was bustling and grew tremendously in the 1800s. At this point in time, most cigars were rolled by hand in the US. It was even reported that hundreds of apartment tenants in New York City alone were producing a large majority of cigars.

Teddy The Puff Rider

Many immigrants from Cuba gathered and formed sizable communities in Tampa, Florida mainly in Ybor City. They ran smaller operations that supported their families by hand-rolling cigars. Then in 1898, the Spanish-American War began.

The United States had over 30,000 troops stationed at Florida ports starting in Key West and going up the state into the Tampa area. Former President Theodore

Teddy Roosevelt

Roosevelt was a Lieutenant Colonel during that war. He, along with his Calvary unit, The Rough Riders changed Tampa forever by changing it into a city from a once small town. President Roosevelt is known for his tough manly ways including his love for cigars! He even adopted the name “Teddy the Puff Rider.”

Teddy Roosevelt went down in history as an American Legend and is remembered in pictures sporting a huge mustache and cigar.

The Cigar Capital of The World

After the war ended, Cuban culture intertwined with the US making cigars extremely popular. By the start of the 1900's, there were over 80,000 cigar manufacturers in the U.S. Most of these were family-owned businesses. Then and there, Tampa, Florida became THE hub for cigar making.

The historic district of Ybor City is located northeast of downtown Tampa. It is known

Downtown Ybor City, Tampa Florida

as the Cigar Capital of the World. It is still to this day a hot spot and a must-see for cigars enthusiasts. Ybor City is a tourist attraction and lures tourists in with its wild eccentric bars, tattoo parlors, and of course famous cigar shops, and factories.

Cigars were also manufactured in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and New York. By the 1920s cigar-making machines were in use for rolling and wrapping. A reduction in cost and increased production led to changes in the industry. Presently, the majority of cigars are machine-made, which includes c-store cigars, also known as gas station cigars.

Tale of Tobacco

Cigars evolved over time originating from basically a bunch of tobacco leaves that had been dried, fermented and rolled into a shape that could be lit and then smoked. The majority of cigars are manufactured in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Cuba, and most are now machine-made.

This fact indicates the popularity of "c-store" or "gas station" cigars as a top-selling cigar. Currently,  the term "cigar" generally covers the range from the c-store variety to premium - although there are many differences between them all. We've covered our belief that there should be a different term for each so as to end the "turf war" over the term "cigar". But as a whole, all cigars are essentially made the same way.

Cuban seed is often used in the growing of the actual tobacco plant. Tobacco growers take extra care in cultivating it while in the fields, once the mature leaves are

Dried Tobacco Leaves

harvested, they are hung in groups to dry for a few months.

The color of the leaves will change from just-picked green to a shade of brown. After a period of time when the leaves ferment, they are gathered into bales and placed in a warehouse for a lengthy period of up to two years or more. These leaves are used in premium cigars while the short filler tobacco and smaller cuts are converted into log rods in a machine.

Homogenized tobacco leaf, HTL, is often used for both the filler and wrapper of c-store cigars. The filler is often put through a process that creates a sheet-like paper that can be cut to size. After this, binder leaves are cut and ready to be filled by a pre-measured amount of short cut leaves that come through a machine where they take their shape. Many c-store cigars are flavored creating a flavor and aroma unique to their type. Cigars are inspected and wrapped in cellophane and are ready to be shipped after one final inspection.

The Rise of C-Store Cigars

Over the last few hundred years, gas station cigars have evolved out of the initial process of hand rolling. Today the majority of cigars are machine manufactured. The use of machines to manufacture them has greatly contributed to their availability and popularity. The factories have perfected the art of rolling cigars.

Mass production cuts down on prices making c-store cigars much more affordable. And since mass-market was introduced, c-store cigars have become a vital part of the cigar industry. As sales continue to grow there appears to be a continuum of the tradition of tobacco enjoyment.

After a slight downturn in the 1960's due to health regulations, cigar smoking had a resurgence by the 90's and became even more popular than before. Cigar clubs and cigar suppliers sprouted up welcoming both men and women. This brought people together and became a social phenomenon.

Hip hop and rap artists also included the mentions of many gas station cigar brands within their songs. Rolling blunts became popular among cannabis smokers in the nineties. Even if you didn't smoke them on the regular, anyone that smoked weed back in the day most likely at least tried smoking a blunt.

Blunts are even more popular today with the legalization of cannabis in many states.  Using gas station cigars adds to the experience and taste of smoking blunts. For the average person, cannabis is usually pretty pricey, so gas station cigars are a more affordable, cost-effective wrap. 

Celebrities, musicians, and even athletes are known to enjoy their favorite stogie - both premium and "gas station". Everyone from the classic actor Jack Nicholson, Arnold


Schwarzenegger, basketball great Michael Jordan, and singers Rihanna and J-Lo have been captured posing with their cigar of choice in a photo or on film.

C-store cigars come in a plethora of brands such as Swisher Sweets, Backwoods, White Owl, Black & Mild, Dutch Masters, Pom Pom Operas, Game, and more! In multiple sizes, flavors and forms - there's something for just about any cigar smoker!

We hope this answered all your cigar history questions. Now that you’ve gained more knowledge about the history of cigars (specifically c-store cigars), we invite you to browse our store and check out our selection at!
Now it’s time to kick back with your favorite cigars and create your own history!

And as always - please smoke responsibly!

← Older Post Newer Post →

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published