Even though cigar smoking has become more and more popular over the last thirty years, with specialty magazines, clubs, cigar subscriptions, celebrities posing with their favorite cigars, custom-mades, et cetera, it’s not a phenomenon…not by a long shot.

It’s believed cigar smoking was invented by the ancient Mayans in the 10th Century. They would take tobacco leaves and roll them in plantain or palm leaves, and smoke away. In fact, the word “cigar” comes from the Mayan term “sikar” meaning “to smoke tobacco leaves”.

As for Michigan, it’s believed our first cigar factory opened in Detroit on Woodward, south of Jefferson Road in 1841. George Miller was the man responsible for the factory, and became huge. Thanks to him, other cigar factories began popping up throughout Detroit. These factories put thousands of Detroiters to work, rolling cigars, stemming, stripping, moulding, and bunching five-cent cigars and stogies. Before the auto industry boom, cigars very well could have been Detroit’s most important industry.

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As a way to make themselves more money, cigar companies began firing the male union workers and hiring non-union Polish immigrant women to work for a lot less money. To attract the women to work, some cigar companies installed lunchrooms, showers, and musicians to play piano to keep them calm and entertained while they sweated over the tobacco.

Although Polish women in particular were perceived as their best workers, they were treated horribly: bad wages, sexual harassment, working conditions were hot, humid, and foul-smelling, causing outbreaks of nausea.

The Polish women had enough and finally went on strike on June 29, 1916. The strike caught on at other factories, causing many factories to shut down. The Great Depression brought the female cigar worker wages down even further and throughout the 1930s many of them threw up their hands and just plain quit. No more striking – they just had their limit and washed their hands of it. Even a 1937 sit-in protest didn’t do much.

Since the end of WWI, cigarettes became more “chic” and popular, especially up through the 1970s. Since the 80s, cigars made an impressive comeback and are still going strong.

The gallery below takes you to some of Michigan’s old cigar stores and hangouts from the early 1990s…

Michigan Cigar Stores, Early 1900s


Vintage Belle Isle Photos, Early 1900s

Tornadoes in Michigan, Early 1900s

Michigan Ice Houses and Delivery Wagons, Early 1900s

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