How Cigars Became a Symbol of Success

One common item you will notice when looking back on photos of various historical celebratory moments is a cigar. Politicians, celebrities, and other elite figures in society have been spotted with a cigar in hand for centuries. What about a cigar makes it such a prime accessory when recognizing accomplishments? We review how cigars became a symbol of success in America.


The conception of the cigar is believed to date back to the ancient Mayans. They would use a plantain leaf or a similar natural resource to roll tobacco in and smoke it. This idea was maintained and eventually shared with Westerners such as Christopher Columbus.

Columbus’ lieutenants brought the act of smoking tobacco to their home countries, Spain and Portugal. Spain is responsible for popularizing the use of papers instead of leaves to roll tobacco. Jean Nicot, who was the French ambassador of Portugal at the time, shared this newfound pastime with France. Nicot’s association with smoking was so distinguishable that nicotine was named after him.

Soon after tobacco smoking became commodified and mass-produced, Cuba was recognized for its tobacco growth. Cuban cigars gained popularity at an exponential rate, becoming one of their most vied-for exports.

In the early 19th and 20th centuries, this commercialized item started serving as a status symbol. They represented privilege, wealth, and success. Cigars were a must-have element of gentleman’s clubs and bar lounges. Smoke rooms started to capture conversations of politics and business deals. As such, the constant presence of cigars became associated with success.

Representation in Media

One of the clearest examples of expensive cigars, often paired with a costly glass of cognac representing class and success, would be in AMC’s Mad Men. These accessories and their ties to success are emphasized throughout the series, along with a plethora of Hollywood-produced films regarding ventures in business. Traditionally, powerful characters in films like Wall Street and Scarface light up cigars in many of their scenes, tying their traits to the accessory and contributing to how cigars became a symbol of success.

Media icons known for smoking cigars include political figures John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Alongside their recognition for critical influence in politics, or portrayal of The Terminator, was their adoration for cigars. The industry even honored Churchill’s commitment to the product by naming one of their most popular sizes “The Churchill.”

Countless triumphs and successful business endeavors through history have been commemorated with cigars. If you are going to celebrate with a smoke, find out how to choose a quality cigar.