John F Kennedy and the H. Upmann Petit
The Strange Legacy of JFK’s Favorite Cigar
John F Kennedy had a love for cigars, but not just any cigar. For him, the H. Upmann cigar was the cigar to have. If you have spent any amount of time perusing the shelves at your local tobacconist, then you have likely crossed paths with an H. Upmann cigar. It is one of the oldest cigar brands in existence (outdated only by Punch and Por Larranaga). It also managed to survive the decades-long embargo by producing a non-Cuban counterpart under the same name.
This longevity is hardly the reason why people still talk about H. Upmann today. The H. Upmann cigar has managed to remain popular among collectors and newcomers alike.
“It’s the cigar that JFK smoked!” is what you will likely hear from the over-enthusiastic guy behind the counter of your local smoke shop. For any warm-blooded American, this is more than enough reason to light up a stick of this signature brand.
Of course, it isn’t technically true. John F. Kennedy’s favorite stick was the original Petite Upmann. It was a machine-rolled Cuban with mild smoke and dense ash that was since discontinued. But the mystique around this famous cigar is only bolstered by one of the most interesting stories in cigar history.
JFK’s Washington D.C. Cigar Sweep
The year was 1962, less than a year after the disastrously-executed Bay of Pigs Invasion. A freshly-elected John F. Kennedy had the unfortunate task of enacting a congressionally-approved Cuban trade embargo. The embargo would forbid the sale of Cuban products (i.e., cigars) on American soil.
Kennedy, a man who knew the value of a well-enjoyed cigar, had to act fast. The next morning, he would have to sign the order. From that moment on, he would no longer be able to find his favorite cigar.
Enter Pierre Salinger, John F. Kennedy’s rookie Secretary of State. According to Salinger’s own account, Kennedy called him into the Oval Office in the early evening. He had a hell of a favor to ask.
“I need some help,” Kennedy said plainly. “ … about 1,000 Petit Upmanns.”
Salinger jumped into action. An avid fan of Cuban cigars himself, he set out to visit every tobacconist in the D.C. area. In all, he was able to buy 1,200 Petite Upmann cigars mere hours before Kennedy signed the embargo into law. According to Salinger, Kennedy signed the document right after hearing about the impressive haul.
The failure of the Bay of Pigs necessitated their stockpiling. So, these were nothing if not victory cigars, at least in the political sense.
The H. Upmann Petite: Gone for Good?
Today, the Cuban-made H. Upmann and the Dominican-made H. Upmann operate inside a peaceful coexistence. Although, the recent loosening of restrictions has allowed a handful of people to partake in the Cuban versions. While the Upmann Petite was long since discontinued, there were some efforts to recreate the flavor and aroma of JFK’s favorite smoke.
The H. Upmann Original Petite Corona is an impressive attempt at this endeavor. This resurrected blend of Dominican and Brazilian tobaccos offers the same level of warm and nutty smoothness that Kennedy and Salinger scrambled to preserve. For about 7 bucks, it is certainly worth a try if you come by one.
Anyone who still holds a grudge against John F Kennedy for the whole Cuban embargo thing, it’s time to do what any lover of good cigars should do. Move on, light up, and enjoy whatever you’re smoking.