Cigar Heritage
 
 

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Tampa Cigar Heritage...

__Our unique history and legacy began in 1879 when Mr. Vicente Martinez Ybor and other manufacturers wanted to relocated their factories from Key West. At the time labor problems, physical space and the continuous menace of fire were some of the reasons of relocation, at the time Galveston, Texas was the re-location choice. Was then that the importer Gavino Gutierrez, who had come to Tampa from New York looking for wild guava trees, found instead an ideal cigar manufacturing climate with development potential and the railroad near by; months later during a meeting with manufacturers he tipped off Martinez Ybor. And by the spring of 1885, Martinez Ybor had entered in negotiations with the Tampa Board of Trade; few months later the purchase was closed and the construction of Cigar City started. Less than a year later (March 30, 1886) a devastating blaze swept Key West. It prompted the exodus of many cigar manufacturers, no only from Key West but also from New York to Tampa.

__Tampa grew from a fisherman village of about 400 to a town of 15,000 by the turn of the century; with most of the growth contributed by the love for Tampa's hand made cigars.The first cigar was made by Sanchez & Haya Cigar, Co. on Tuesday 13, 1886. Their monthly production was 500,000 hand made cigars a month. Martinez Ybor company started operations three months later, with his known label "Principe de Gales" (Prince of Wales). Manufacturers were enchanted and described Tampa as the "American Paradise" due to its ideal climate and vegetation. Martinez Ybor with his colleague, Mr. Ignacio Haya, built the first cigar factory in order to create "Cigar City"; a factory that become one dozen in less than a decade later and made Ybor City well known as a handmade cigar center by 1889. In that year Mr. Vicente Martinez Ybor passed away, without realizing that his dream came true. With the advantage of a great natural bay and the connection with the railroad to the north, the transport of the raw materials and the export of cigars was in place. But no always was paradise, weather conditions (hard freeze, hurricanes and heat), labor problems (strikes, racial discrimination), building fires among others were a menace to the industry.

__The "Lector" (Reader) concept was introduce in 1887 to the cigar industry, and for over 45 years was considered essential to motivate the work force. His job was to read stories, the daily news, and keep informed the cigar maker of the daily events. Normally he was sitting on a tall chair in one side by the center of the galley. In 1932, factory owners from Ybor City and West Tampa concerned by the influence created by unions and afraid of radical cigar workers decreed an end to the lector system in Tampa and the radio was placed instead.

__The cigar makers came from all over the world, specially Cuban cigar makers who had left the island to make a living and attain a piece of the American dream like many other immigrants. Others came to help built the city at different levels in all kind of jobs, but all related to the main industry, cigars. At one point two major production areas were created, Ybor City and West Tampa. Combined there were over 225 factories by the turn of the century, with millions of hand made cigars produced monthly. Years later, labor problems, mechanization, racial, and cultural clashes over unions and a reduction of the market are consider the main reason for the decline of the once famous handmade cigar production in Tampa... Today (130) years later less than half a dozen small operations still active, and with a labor force of a few proud cigar makers trying to maintain the art of cigar making alive..

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Vicente Martinez Ybor

 

Sanchez & Haya Cigar, Co.

 

Cigarmakers

 

City of West Tampa Seal

 

Hugh C. Mc Farlane

 

Last update: 11-06-2015