About State of the Union History

1926 Calvin Coolidge - Parcel-Post Convention with Cuba & Cigars

In 1926, Calvin Coolidge, well known for his love of Cuban cigars urged Congress to eliminate the 1866 restriction on shipping Cigars and spirituous liquor in small quantities.  Cuba was refusing to extend the current parcel post convention with the United States, unless the law was repealed and they had a friend in office, a man who started each day with a huge Cuban cigar about 12 inches long.  Whether on the porch while his wife was knitting or after breakfast meetings with members of Congress, Coolidge would hand out cigars and enjoy a puff while discussion legislation.  Coolidge could smoke three of these 'supercoronas' by afternoon.  If someone offered Coolidge a cigar, he would investigate its size and aroma then pull out of his own pocket one of his big fat Coronas.  According to some historians, Coolidge often used cigars as weapon to influence conversations and even draw out a compromise among his guests.  I can just picture, Coolidge waving his cigar at Congress as these words were delivered.  Of course, in 1926 the State of the Union address was delivered in written form, and read by the clerk, but this same imagery was probably in the head of several members of Congress.  

Coolidge did love his cigars, but 'Silent Cal' was also a frugal man.  In the 1920's the best quality Cuban cigars ran about 75 cents each.  Luckily, Coolidge rarely had to buy them.  Quite often boxes of these cigars were given to Calvin as a gift.  Nevertheless, a frugal man who liked his Havana cigars was just the right man to hear the cries of Cubans about a 60-year-old U.S. law that discriminated against them and their Cuban cigars.  In 1866, Congress pass a law to restrict the quantity of hard liquor and cigars that may be imported in one package.  The intent of the law was to prevent smuggling of these products in quantities that could be easily concealed.   The law banned the importation of cigars and cigarettes containing no less than 3,000.   At 75 cents each, a box of 3000 'superCoronas' would cost $2250, or about $32,000 in today's dollars.   Such a cost meant that only the largest importers in America could purchase Cuban cigars.  In 1866, this may have made sense given the limitations of the travel and transportation, but by 1926 the world was changing.  Air transport was becoming a reality and railroads were transporting goods all over the nation.  This was just one year before Pan American World Airways would begin scheduled air mail between Key West, Florida and Cuba.  There were huge opportunities for Cuba if only they could ship smaller packages of cigars from Havana to the American consumer, and there were even bigger opportunities for the U.S. if local goods could be shipped via U.S. parcel post.     

These opportunities and a Republican push for global trade led to the negotiation of a parcel-post convention with Cuba.   A parcel post convention would allow the development of a mail service for heavier items that would typically be delivered at a slower pace over a network of railroads that carried parcel packages on a regular schedule at significantly reduced cost.  According to the Report of the Postmaster General, the Post Department was unable to negotiate a long-term parcel-post convention with the postal administration of Cuba because of the discriminating statue on Cuban cigars and cigarettes.  The Cuban administration would only allow a temporary parcel-post convention of 18 months because they believed that was ample time for the U.S. Congress to repeal the law.  The Postmaster General made it very clear that unless Congress repealed the 1866 law, Cuba would not extend the convention.  Without such a convention, shipping of goods to and from Cuba would too expensive to have any meaningful exchange of commerce.  According to the report, business organizations and chambers of commerce had been strongly urging for a repeal or modification of the law so that the parcel-post convention could continue.  There was only one industry that was against the convention, and that was America's domestic cigar industry.   They liked things just the way they were, but President Calvin Coolidge preferred his big fat Coronas from Cuba over any domestic Cigar.   So, in 1926 Coolidge shared the Postmaster's report with Congress and urged them to repeal the 1866 law restricting the quantity of cigars that could be imported in one package.

In his 1926 State of the Union Address, President Coolidge shared with Congress encouraging words about the temporary parcel-post convention and urged Congress to repeal the restrictions on importation of Cigars.  First, Coolidge shared the news that during 1926, the United States shipped twelve times as many parcels weighting twenty-four times as much as we received.  Clearly the convention benefitted the United States more than Cuba, but unless the 1866 law to discourage smuggling was repealed, Cuba was going to pull out of the convention.  Coolidge called the law unnecessary and discriminatory against Cuba.  Its repeal was recommended by both the Treasury and Post Office Departments.  Regarding America's domestic cigar industry, Coolidge waved his cigar at his friends in congress (figuratively) and reminded them that we already purchase large quantities of tobacco made in Cuba, and that was unlikely to change, but if the law was repealed it would benefit many other industries.  
"We have a temporary parcel-post convention with Cuba. The advantage of it is all on our side. During 1926 we shipped twelve times as many parcels, weighing twenty-four times as much, as we received. This convention was made on the understanding that we would repeal an old law prohibiting the importation of cigars and cigarettes in quantities less than 3,000 enacted in 1866 to discourage smuggling, for which it has long been unnecessary. This law unjustly discriminates against an important industry of Cuba. Its repeal has been recommended by the Treasury and Post Office Departments. Unless this is done our merchants and railroads will find themselves deprived of this large parcel-post business after the 1st of next March, the date of the expiration of the convention, which has been extended upon the specific understanding that it would expire at that time unless this legislation was enacted. We purchase large quantities of tobacco made in Cuba. It is not probable that our purchases would be any larger if this law was repealed, while it would be an advantage to many other industries in the United States."


Presidency.ucsb.edu. (2019). Fifth Annual Message | The American Presidency Project. [online] Available at: https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/fifth-annual-message-5 [Accessed 4 Jun. 2019].

Annual Report of the Postmaster General for the fiscal year ended June 30 1926. (1926). Washington: Washington Government Printing Office, p.42.   Available at: https://books.google.com/books?id=uoVIAQAAIAAJ [Accessed 4 Jun. 2019].

Holt's Clubhouse. (2019). Presidents Who Smoked Cigars. [online] Available at: https://www.holts.com/clubhouse/cigar-culture/presidents-smoked-cigars [Accessed 4 Jun. 2019].

M. Shanken Communications, I. (2019). Our Presidents and Cigars. [online] Cigar Aficionado. Available at: https://www.cigaraficionado.com/article/our-presidents-and-cigars-6103 [Accessed 4 Jun. 2019].

The Internal Revenue Record and Customs Journal, Volumes 7-8 (C'gars and Liquors in Bond.). (1868). Internal Revenue, p.62.

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