The early colonists introduced tobacco in Virginia. The inaugural tobacco crop was harvested and sold on the European market starting in 1612. American planters increased tobacco production in response to the great European demand for the product.
Since that maiden harvest, tobacco has become a critical force in the American economy and a favorite product for American consumers. In the early days, the men and women from Southern plantations made up the biggest group of tobacco consumers. The trend spread quickly, though, and before long, many members of our nation’s elite were smoking regularly. Even those who occupied the White House enjoyed smoking cigars and cigarettes. In fact, smoking was so popular that until World War II, most American presidents smoked cigars.
Some of the American presidents associated with cigars include the following:
- Andrew Jackson and his wife, Rachel, were such regular users of tobacco that they installed brass spittoons in the White House. It was reported that Mrs. Jackson would smoke two cigars a night while seated in her rocking chair before a warm fire.
- Zachary Taylor, the hero of the Mexican War, smoked cigars but only in the presence of fellow male smokers.
- Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president and Union general who defeated the Confederate Army,had a close relationship with cigars. In pictures, he is often portrayed with his beloved cigar. Grant was reported to have smoked about 20 cigars a day.
- Chester Arthur, the 21st president, used to enjoy lavish suppers, concluding with Champagne and expensive imported cigars.
- Benjamin Harrison, president from 1889 to 1993, was a moderate cigar smoker, but he made complimentary cigars available in the White House for guests.
- William McKinley, the 25th president, was never seen smoking in public, but in private, he obsessively smoked his beloved imported Garcias.
- William H. Taft, the 27th president, entered the White House as a cigar smoker but quit while in office.
- Warren G. Harding, the 29th president, brought his cigar humidor from his Ohio home to the White House.
- Herbert Hoover was reported to be an incessant cigar smoker while tackling the pressures of the Great Depression.
- Calvin Coolidge, president from 1923 to 1929, was often seen in public with his cigar. He offered cigars to members of Congress when they joined him for discussions about proposed legislation.
- John F. Kennedy is the most famous cigar smoker among modern presidents. He smoked even when he was a young man. He asked his press secretary to procure 1,000 Cuban cigars before he signed the embargo against Cuban tobacco products. Petit Upmann was his favorite.
- Richard Nixon was not a regular smoker but enjoyed cigars once in a while. He was the last president to offer cigars after dinner in the Green Room.
As history attests, cigars have held sway even with some of the most well-known and influential members of American society.