These Were JFK's Favorite Cigars

Camelot, a growing civil rights movement, the escalation of the space race, alleged Mafia ties and conspiracies — all are part of the mythology of the Kennedy administration, with varying degrees of truth behind them. And of course, no accounting of John F. Kennedy's time in the Oval Office can neglect Cuba. From the fall of the Batista regime during the Eisenhower administration, America's relations with Cuba soured. Kennedy inherited and implemented Eisenhower's covert military solution to the new government under Fidel Castro, resulting in the Bay of Pigs disaster. On its heels came the Cuban Missile Crisis and flirtation with World War III.

In between those episodes, Kennedy expanded a U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba on February 7, 1962. Before signing that executive order, however, he needed some personal business attended to. Pierre Salinger, Kennedy's press secretary at the time, wrote in Cigar Aficionado in 1992 that the president called him into his office the night before the embargo was enacted to request that Salinger secure him around 1,000 Cuban cigars, preferably Petit Upmanns. Salinger came through with 1,200. Immediately after receiving them, a smiling Kennedy signed the embargo, his private stash for a favorite vice secured.

John F. Kennedy smoked a lot of cigars

The antics of some other members of his family might lead one to assume John F. Kennedy's vice of choice was alcohol, and there was apparently a minor scandal caused when his administration began serving more drinks at official events than Dwight D. Eisenhower had (per The Washington Post). But Kennedy himself was not a heavy drinker. He was, however, a daily cigar smoker. In fact, he averaged about four or five a day, according to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

As to what kind of cigars Kennedy favored, the JFK Library named Petit Upmanns and Monticellos as his smokes of choice. But in a column printed in The Salt Lake Tribune, the president was said not to have any particular brand loyalty. Instead, he was said to like "small cigars." And according to Cigar Aficionado, aides claimed Kennedy often left his cigars unfinished — when in conversation, he would smoke only briefly before turning his attention to the talk at hand.

He took the Cuba embargo seriously, even regarding cigars

Though John F. Kennedy enjoyed Cuban cigars enough that he secured some before the U.S. embargo against Cuba, but that didn't mean that he was prepared to accept any contributions to his private hoard once the embargo was in place. In 1992 Cigar Aficionado article, Pierre Salinger wrote about the time that President Kennedy spoiled a coveted gift of Cuban cigars Salinger picked up abroad.

Being a cigar enthusiast himself, Salinger found the embargo an inconvenience to his vice. When he went abroad in 1962, he thought he had a perfect way around the ban when Nikita Khrushchev, who didn't like cigars, passed on a box of 250 Cubans gifted to him by Fidel Castro himself. Salinger, traveling as he was with a diplomatic passport, anticipated no trouble in getting the cigars back into the United States and planned to share them with his boss. But when Kennedy learned how Salinger had gotten the box, he thought it was too much of a scandal and ordered them surrendered to customs. To make sure it was done, he also ordered that Salinger bring him the receipt.

Per Cigar Aficionado, Salinger wasn't the only one to try and pass Kennedy a Cuban after the embargo. Kennedy was allegedly intrigued by some of these efforts, but not because of the cigars — he liked the stories about how they got to him.