From The New World to the Old
Tobacco use has an extensive history in the Americas. The plant’s cultivation for human use can be traced back to about 6000 BC. During this time, tobacco was mainly used for medicinal and religious purposes. It was believed to be a cure-for-all, and was used to relieve pain and dressing wounds. Pipes were also used for smoking, which was at the time an occasional partaking.
The plant found its way into Europe in the 15th century, when sailors brought it with them from their voyages. Tobacco began being cultivated all over the continent mainly due to its supposed healing attributes. People believed that tobacco could cure everything from bad breath to ironically, cancer. A Spanish doctor even wrote a book where he claimed that tobacco was a remedy for close to 40 health issues.
Smoking History: Emergence of Tobacco as a Cash Crop
In the late 16th century, tobacco smoking was promoted as a viable way in which people could get their daily dose. During the 1600’s, the plant’s popularity surged immensely to the point where it started being used as currency. Tobacco was the first cash crop in North America, with cultivation beginning in 1612 in Virginia.
Over the following two centuries, the rise of tobacco as a cash crop led to high demand for slave labor. By the 19th century, small amounts of tobacco were being used by many people. Some smoked it using a pipe occasionally, while others chewed it.
Hand-rolled cigars and cigarettes were also commonplace at the time. The latter had existed since the early 17th century, albeit in crude form, and were usually made from scraps left over after other products like chewing tobacco were produced. Cigarettes grew in popularity due to the spread of ‘Bright’ Tobacco, a distinctly cured yellow leaf grown in North Carolina and Virginia. The first commercial cigarettes were made in North Carolina in 1865.
The invention of a cigarette-making machine in 1881 further fuelled the spread of smoking. The device had a capacity of over 100,000 sticks a day. The first cigarette factory was soon opened and released the first branded sticks, which were packaged inside a box with baseball cards. By the dawn of the 20th century, there were already several companies in this business.