The History Of Tobacco
As early as 2,000 years
ago, natives of the Americas used tobacco as a medicine, as a hallucinogen in
religious ceremonies, and as offerings to the spirits they worshiped. When
Italian Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus traveled to the Americas in 1492,
he observed the Arawak people of the Caribbean smoking tobacco loosely rolled in
a large tobacco leaf. They also smoked tobacco through a tube they called a
tobago, from which the name tobacco originated. Columbusís crew introduced
tobacco growing and use to Spain. During the next 50 years, sailors, explorers,
and diplomats helped spread pipe and cigar smoking throughout Europe. At first,
it was used medicinally as a purported treatment for diseases and disorders such
as bubonic plague, migraines, labor pains, asthma, and cancer. Within 100 years,
however, smoking for pleasure became common.
In 1612 the British colony at Jamestown, Virginia, began growing wild tobacco and exporting it to England. They soon switched to common tobacco, the milder kind grown in the West Indies and in demand in Europe. It quickly became the main crop grown in the colonies and was so profitable that without it, historians agree, the English colonies in North America would have failed.
As tobacco farming expanded through the colonies, growers brought British prisoners and debtors to work the fields. These indentured servants earned their freedom after 5 to 12 years of labor. Growers soon found it more profitable to bring in African slaves, since they never had to be given their freedom. Slavery enabled growers to farm larger areas, making giant plantations possible. After 1776 tobacco farming expanded from Virginia south to North Carolina and west as far as Missouri. In about 1864 an Ohio farmer happened upon a chlorophyll-deficient strain of tobacco called white burley, which became a main ingredient of American blended tobaccos.
Cigarettes were invented in 1614 by beggars in Seville, Spain, a center for cigar production. The beggars collected scrap tobacco and rolled it in paper. However, snuff, cigars, and pipes remained the most popular means of using tobacco until the 19th century. Cigarette popularity rose when British soldiers fighting in the Crimean War (1853-1856) found the cigarettes of their Turkish allies to be more convenient than pipes or cigars. Cigarettes grew in popularity in the United States after the Civil War (1861-1865) but were relatively expensive because they were hand-rolled.
Cigarette prices fell after American inventor James A. Bonsack patented a machine to roll cigarettes in 1880; the machines could produce more than 10,000 cigarettes in an hour. By 1919, cigarettes were more popular than cigars. Smoking continued to grow in popularity until the 1960s and 1970s, when awareness of its health risks grew.