Friday, June 08, 2007

In 1898, when the Spanish-American War brought Cuba under United States control, American firms began to dominate island industries, including the Cuban cigar industry. The explosion of entrepreneurship in the Cuban cigar industry just after the turn of the century led to the issuance of the Cuban Warranty Seal in 1912 to try to bring some sanity to the proliferation of brands, styles and sizes. Cuban exports remained strong through World War I, but declined considerably afterward.(The record for this period came in 1906, when 257,776,000 Havanas were exported. The biggest drop came in 1921, when thanks to new tariffs, exports dropped almost 61% to just 59,440,000!) In the 1920s, the introduction of the cigar-making machine in the Por LarraƱaga factory led to a crisis in the industry, as rollers saw their jobs threatened. A boycott of the machine-made products led to the removal of the machines in 1937 until 1950, but American companies interested in this technology and in traditional, hand-rolled cigars began importing large amounts of Cuban leaf into the U.S. for production there instead of in Havana. These cigars, made of all-Cuban tobacco, were known as "Clear Havanas."
In Cuba, even harder times were ahead as German submarine attacks in the Atlantic Ocean during World War II made Havanas almost unavailable in Europe, their principal market. But after the war, the popularity of Cuban cigars was reinvigorated by the image of the cigar-loving British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and by machine-made cigars, which satisfied the European desire for inexpensive smokes from Havana.(A noteworthy surge in sales occurred in 1944, when 181,313,000 Havanas were exported, the most since 1910!) With its markets restored, the Cuban cigar industry moved ahead until 1959, when the Cuban Revolution changed the political situation and the tobacco industry was nationalized.