How Churchills Became Churchills
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 what were called ‘Clemenceaus’. So, when did that change, and why?
What are Churchills?
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 where he immediately became hooked on one of the country’s most famous products, cigars.
While he would sometimes smoke other brands, it was Romeo y Julieta and the La Aroma de Cuba cigars that caught Churchill’s particular fancy. For the rest of his life, friends, associates and a series of Havana dealers would regularly send Winston 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. On average, it is believed he would go through about 10 cigars per day. The legendary London cigar shop, James J. Fox, has records of Churchill buying hundreds of thousands of cigars, including more than 1,300 in 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 then 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 would buy numerous brands at a time and would store 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 was taken to new heights when he requested that the Royal Airforce construct a special mask for him that enabled smoking 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 which he used the device on more than one occasion.
During WW2 photographs of Churchill with his bowler hat and omnipresent cigars became famous, making it difficult to separate the man from his trademark accessories as his decades-long political career ebbed and flowed. In 1931, during a particularly low period, a British political cartoonist depicted Churchill attacking his opponents with a Tommy Gun, dubbing 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 the fact that he almost never appeared visibly drunk. When asked about this phenomenon, namely, 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 during that time and afterward were able to get away with, even benefited from, such public images. FDR was no exception and, eventually, 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, as 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 Churchills 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 as well as others, but little evidence for this exists. Odds are, that Churchill himself actually had very little to do with his favorite cigars taking on his namesake, although certainly he would have been delighted by it.
Really, what appears to have happened is that soon after Winston’s three businessmen: David Knight, John Croley, and Robert approached the Churchill family to ask if they could use his name on a Romeo y Julieta cigar. Precisely when this took place, is not certain. But it was most likely while Winston himself was still alive. This fact comes as something of a surprise to those who know about Churchill the man, because he was famously protective over his name being exploited for commercial reasons. When it came to his favorite cigars, however, he was obviously willing to make an exception.
The Romeo y Julieta company soon followed by renaming their ‘Clemenceaus’ cigars ‘Churchills’ in honor of their favorite customer.
Why Churchill Smoked
Although renowned today for his steadfast leadership of Britain during World War II, Churchill suffered periods of uncertainty throughout his life, including the severe depressions he called his “black dog” moods.
Churchill would often turn to his cigars to ease the mounting pressure he felt weighing on his shoulders. In his book “Thoughts and Adventures,” Churchill recalled his parent’s early attempt to curb his smoking habit, but reflected on why he was unable — or unwilling — to quit, writing, “How can I tell that the soothing influence of tobacco upon my nervous system may not have enabled me to comport 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, especially considering that, in the end, Churchill died in 1965 still relatively mentally sharp at the ripe old age of 90.
Photo credit: Romeo y Julieta Cigars