A Brief History of Smokeless Tobacco

March 23, 2022

brief history of smokeless tobacco


The world of smokeless tobacco products carries a long and interesting history. In order to appreciate where we are with great tobacco alternatives available to us now, it is important to look back and see where we have been. Smokeless tobacco has been a key feature in many different cultures since new world explorers found it back in the 1400s, so it is important to know where it came from, how it impacted the world, and what the future holds for smokeless tobacco products.

Where Did Tobacco Come From?

Tobacco was one of the most important trade goods during the days of colonial expansion to the new world. It was believed to have been discovered in 1499 when Amerigo Vespucci found indigenous tribes chewing on a green herb that they used to quench their thirst. They would also use it to quell hunger, and whiten their teeth. This is likely the first recorded instance of chewing tobacco.

After Vespucci’s discovery, other explorers began reporting back news of tobacco use, and it became clear that the natives living in Central and South America were well familiar with the use of chewing tobacco, and the practice was widespread all over Central America, South America, and the Caribbean islands. 

Pretty soon after, tobacco became a staple crop. By 1531, the Spanish had begun growing tobacco commercially in the West Indies, where they maintained control of the European tobacco market until the Portuguese started growing tobacco in 1573. By this time tobacco was grown in Europe both for decoration, and for its medicinal qualities.

Tobacco soon became a huge hit amongst European citizens, who by that time had gone beyond chewing the leaves, and had begun rolling and smoking tobacco. However, smoking was not allowed on British ships due to the fire hazard, so the sailors kept chewing to help make the long ocean voyages go a little bit smoother. 

As time moves on we begin to see tobacco production pick up in the American colonies, where it became a crucial cash crop for the early United States economy, pushing the early days of the country forward, where tobacco soon went from being a crucial part of the economy, to a crucial part of culture.

How Smokeless Tobacco Impacted the World

Smokeless tobacco began taking over the world after its discovery in the 1400s. The use and growth of the tobacco plant spread across the West Indies, Europe, and North America. Not only for its uses in chewing and smoking, but in decoration as well. Tobacco plants produce large, beautiful leaves that were used in decoration in Europe as an exotic feature of the new world.

The use of tobacco in what became the United States became an almost essential part of life, especially since it was so plentiful. Southern states like Virginia capitalized on the value of the plant and grew enough to keep the whole nation satisfied. 

Across the early states and further into western expansion, smokeless tobacco was so ingrained in culture that every saloon, restaurant, inn, and church would make sure to have plenty of spittoons for all the people coming in. Laws had to be made to control the spitting, such as laws about men not being able to spit in the presence of women, and not being able to spit on public sidewalks. 

Perhaps one of the biggest contributing factors to the popularity of tobacco was the connection between tobacco and baseball. The first two decades of the 1900s, known as the Deadball Era, featured baseball legends such as Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Honus Wagner. At times of uncertainty, especially during that time as the world was beginning to move into the first World War, people needed somebody larger than life to look up to, and those famous early baseball players fit the bill. 

The game of baseball began growing so quickly that early tobacco companies knew they had to find a way to use it for marketing, so they began printing collectible cards featuring the players' picture that fans could collect and trade. Perhaps the most famous card of all time, printed by the American Tobacco Company, features Honus Wagner from Pittsburgh. This is where the connection between baseball and tobacco began.

Since the days of early tobacco cards, smokeless tobacco became a staple for almost every player on the field. It stayed like that for a very long time, until more recent years, when Major League Baseball decided to tell players they could not consume tobacco products in uniform anymore. However, if you look closely at a game, you can still see some lumps in players’ lips. Some chew sunflower seeds during the game, but some people are suspecting that some players are sneaking a lip of chewing tobacco in the dugouts.

The Varieties of Smokeless Tobacco

The main varieties of smokeless tobacco that have sold in the United States and across the world are dry chewing tobacco, which is less popular now though is essentially where chewing tobacco got started way back in the old days. Then you have dipping tobacco which is fire-cured, and also commonly referred to as dip, chew, or moist snuff. This is the most popular variety, especially in the South. Next you have snus, which is similar to dip, but instead of being fire-cured it goes through a steam-pasteurizing process, which creates a different flavor, and causes the product to produce less saliva.

Following those more traditional varieties you have the newer alternatives such as Black Buffalo, where the product gives you the same burn and flavor you are used to, but without the fire-curing process or the tobacco leaf or stem. 

The Future of Smokeless Tobacco

The cultivation and usage of smokeless tobacco has quite literally changed the world, but tobacco products have changed quite significantly over the years. In the beginning, it was basically just chewed raw leaves. Now, there are many different styles, flavored chewing tobacco varieties, and curing methods that give consumers many options to choose from.

However, the future of every industry is innovation. At Black Buffalo, we think tobacco alternatives are the way to charge ahead. Black Buffalo dips are available in both long cut and pouches in a variety of flavors, including Straight, Mint, Wintergreen, and more.

The future of tobacco is now, and the future is alternatives. At Black Buffalo, we charge ahead into the unknown, and you can join us and join the herd for yourself. See why our tobacco alternatives are paving a great way forward.

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