Churchills, or Churchill cigars, are almost as well-known as Cubans. Naturally, Churchills are named after famed WW2 Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. But it wasn’t always this way. It used to be that old Winston smoked ‘Clemenceaus’. So, when did that change, and why?
What are Churchill Cigars?
Churchills are large cigars measuring between 6.75 and 7 inches long and have a 48-50 ring gauge.
Over the past few decades, some cigar makers have introduced short, wide, and petite varieties of the famed cigar. But, these are not true Churchills.
Winston Churchill’s Smoking
Winston Churchill spent a few months in Cuba during his youth. While there, he immediately became hooked on one of the country’s most famous products, cigars.
Sometimes, he smoked other brands. Yet, it was Romeo y Julieta and the La Aroma de Cuba cigars that caught Churchill’s particular fancy. For the rest of his life, Churchill’s friends, associates and a series of Havana dealers regularly sent him shipments of his prized Cubans. This was especially appreciated during WW2 when they were very hard for him to come by.
It’s no secret that Winston was an avid cigar smoker. Rumor suggests that he went through an average of about 10 cigars per day. The legendary London cigar shop, James J. Fox, has records of Churchill buying hundreds of thousands of cigars. One record recorded more than 1,300 cigars purchased during a six-month period in 1964, the year before he died. And Fox, by the way, was not the only store selling him cigars. It goes without saying that Winston spent an exceptional amount of money on cigars. One of his private secretaries once remarked that he got used to the idea that Winston’s weekly cigar habit often amounted to more money then his monthly salary.
Although Winston had his clear favorites, he often tended to buy his cigars based, to a degree, on his budget. Often, he bought many brands at a time and stored them all at his estate in Kent, which could hold around 4,000 cigars. In spite of his cigar room’s size, by the time he died, Winston did not leave many of his beloved cigars behind. He did, however, leave his favorite silver ashtray.
Churchill’s love of smoking soared to new heights when he requested the Royal Air force construct a special mask for him. The mask enabled Winston to smoke at 15,000 feet. He said that he couldn’t fly without it. The Royal Navy was happy to construct the device, which worked. And, Winston used the device on more than one occasion.
During WW2, photographs of Churchill with his bowler hat and omnipresent cigars became famous. That made it difficult to separate the man from his trademark accessories as his long political career ebbed and flowed. In 1931, a British political cartoonist depicted Churchill attacking his opponents with a Tommy Gun. He dubbed him “Cigarface,” a homage to the popular Hollywood gangster film “Scarface”. People liked the idea of Churchill as the hard-living rebel who was standing up to Hitler. And the reality was not too far from this fiction. He was certainly hard-smoking and his drinking habits almost matched those of his smoking. Perhaps, the most remarkable thing about this was that he almost never appeared drunk. When asked how he managed to stay sober in spite of drinking enough alcohol to put other men on the floor, Churchill wry replied, “Practice.” Many world leaders of that time and afterward were able to get away with, and even benefited from, such public images. FDR was no exception. Neither was John F. Kennedy.
Churchill and his cigars remain indelibly connected today, more than 50 years after his death. Several companies manufacture and market Churchill-branded cigars and accessories. Churchill-related memorabilia is also a lucrative market. That’s evidenced by the $12,000 a Palm Beach, Florida collector paid in 2017 for a partially-smoked cigar that Churchill puffed at a Paris airport in 1947.
When Churchill Cigars Became Churchills
But the question remains: When did Churchills become Churchills? The history here is somewhat murky. There are stories that Winston visited the Romeo y Julieta company while in Cuba, but little evidence for this exists. Odds are, Churchill actually had little to do with his favorite cigars taking on his namesake. Although, he would have been delighted by it.
What appears to have happened is this. Soon after, Winston’s three businessmen: David Knight, John Croley, and Robert approached the Churchill family. They ask if they could use his name on a Romeo y Julieta cigar. When this took place is uncertain. But it was most likely while Winston himself was still alive. This comes as a surprise to those who know Churchill. That’s because he was always protective over potential exploitation of his name for commercial reasons. When it came to his favorite cigars, though, he was willing to make an exception.
The Romeo y Julieta company soon renamed their ‘Clemenceaus’ cigars as ‘Churchills’ in honor of their favorite customer.
Why Churchill Smoked
Although renowned for his steadfast leadership, Churchill suffered periods of uncertainty throughout his life. This included severe depressions he called his “black dog” moods.
Churchill often turned to his cigars to ease the mounting pressure that weighed on his shoulders. In his book “Thoughts and Adventures,” Churchill recalled his parent’s early attempt to curb his smoking habit. He reflected on why he was unable — or unwilling — to quit. He said, “How can I tell that the soothing influence of tobacco upon my nervous system may not have enabled me to comfort myself with calm and courtesy in some awkward personal encounter or negotiation, or carried me serenely through some critical hours of anxious waiting? How can I tell that my temper would have been as sweet or my companionship as agreeable, if I had abjured from my youth the goddess nicotine?” It’s hard to argue with that logic. In the end, Churchill died in 1965 still relative, mentally sharpness at the ripe old age of 90.
Photo credit: Romeo y Julieta Cigars