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Sunday Favorites: The Rise of the Cigar

The E.P Lloyd Cigar Factory located in Manatee is pictured above circa 1908-1910.

The eighteenth century became known as the "Age of Snuff." 

The finely grated tobacco from North Carolina and Kentucky was inhaled in the nose or used for pipe smoking. But when settlers moved to Florida, the era of Cuban trade had a big influence on the region.

Folks traded their pipes and spittoons for more distinguished Cuban cigars, which were sold at nearly every five and dime in the area. 

Commercial cigar rolling in Florida began with small-scale operations started by Cuban immigrants as early as 1830.

In 1867, German immigrant and New York cigar manufacturer Samuel Seidenberg established the first authentic Cuban cigar factory in Key West. According to the Florida Memory Project, Seidenberg pioneered the idea of making Cuban cigars in America. Using Cuban laborers to roll Cuban tobacco, Seidenberg avoided the high tariff levied against products from Havana, as well as the trade restrictions imposed by Spain.

By the 1890s, 50,000-100,000 Cubans traveled back and forth annually to work in the factories.

Cuban Cigars were so popular in Florida, in 1885 cigar connoisseur Vicente Martinez Ybor, who had run a successful cigar making business in Cuba since the 1850s, relocated to Key West, then progressed north. He turned a portion of Tampa, now known as Ybor City, into the cigar capital of the world. 

By 1910, there were 150 factories in the Tampa area employing more than 10,000 workers from all over the world. Of the 50,000 residents of Tampa, 14,000 were Cuban, 7,500 were Spanish, and 1,500 were Italian, according to FMP.

Workers in a cigar factory in Tallahassee take a break from rolling stogies.

Other cities all over Florida followed suit. Cigar factories appeared in all of Florida’s urban areas during the late 1800s. 

However, the impacts were particularly profound in Key West and in the Ybor City and West Tampa areas around Tampa Bay, according to a blog post by the FMP.

Residents in Bradentown and Sarasota had visions of becoming the cigar capital of southwestern Florida.

On March 20, 1890 it was reported in the Manatee River Journal that the first reported cigar factor opened. Wesley V. Curry owned the factory employing four operators to roll stogies. However, Curry planned to expand his workforce as the market demanded. 

That same year, citizens of the Village of Manatee agreed to donate 40 acres of land to any company that planned to build a cigar factory. The newspaper pledged $25 to encourage the idea.

In 1897, Manatee County Tobacco Company was formed with W.K Trimble listed as the secretary and general manager. A Cuban, Pedro Valdes, and three assistants reportedly cleared thirty acres for the endeavor. 

In 1910, The Bradentown Cigar Company rolled cigars known as “Manatee Straights.” While the exact location of the factory is unknown, Marry McMurria said she believed the cigar factory was located in Manatee and owned by Ed Lloyd in a 1981 interview with the Manatee County Historical Society.

A box reading "Manatee Straights" was found in the 1970s inside city property. The word "cigars" is misspelled on the box.

According to McMurria, the company was old to Jack Davis in 1912 and relocated to the corner of Sixth Street and Sixth Avenue West. Sam Knight bought the company a year later, moving the location to 13th Street and Eighth Avenue West on the second story of a lumber company.

Knight was delighted to hear that many experience cigar workers in Tampa were on strike. He quickly hired the recently employed Cubans who he employed until the strike ended two years later.

Manatee Straights got a run for the money when Sawyer & Company created “Hanlina Greetings,” a brand of cigars stylishly packaged in packs of 10 and placed inside miniature Spanish cedar chest for the bargain price of 15 cents. In its third week of business, the company reported sold 10,000 cigars with orders for 30,000 more.

By 1915, there were a little over 3,000 people in Manatee County and three cigar facotories. But Manatee County wasn't alone in the cigar craze. 

In 1911 Jim Hill and his family started the Sarasota Cigar Company in his home on Main Street. 

When Hill’s family grew tied of hand rolling cigars in their living room, Hill approached the Sarasota Board of Trade and requested funds for the construction of a factory.

Hill argued the factory would help bolster the economy by providing jobs.

The idea was well received. During the meeting, Dr. Shultz, the proprietor of Badger’s Drug Store, pledged $10 toward the project and Sarasota businessman John Savarese optimistically predicted the factory could employee as many as 200 residents. 

Thrilled at the reaction of the board, Hill gave members a box of his cigars at the next meeting as a token of his appreciation, announcing, “They were a hit with the railroad people.”

Two Cuban women roll cigars. It was thougth that A Cuban workforce and Cuban tobbacco had to be used for a cigar to be considered Authentic Cuban.

Initially the company offered three brands, Sarasota Board of Trade (amazing what $10 would get you back then), Sarasota and Sarasota Gem. Soon Little Dixie, Simpatica and Habana were added to the product line.

During the first month the company employed four men and produced and exported over 10,000 cigars. The stogies were sold up the coast in Bradentown and Tampa.

The Board of Trade members were soon stockholders and the business was thriving like never before. 

Hill expanded and took his business to the road. He was a traveling salesmen promoting his brand and the orders were coming in by the thousands. The number of employees and output had doubled every month since the business started. 

A few months after its inception, nine employees were rolling about 2,000 cigars a day. 

Hill saw his calling when then Vice President Thomas Riley Marshall, under President Woodrow Wilson, announced, “What this country needs is a good 5 cent cigar.”

Hill priced all his cigars at 5 cents and guaranteed their quality was equivalent to the move expensive brands. They offered fine quality tobacco, drew freely, burned evenly and held fire and ash.

“You never see a butt of our cigars lying around,” he said. “They are smoked as long as there is a whiff. 

After 1916, Hill and his family left Sarasota. However, their cigar legacy did not depart with them.

In the 1920s, Michael and Edward Roth began manufacturing cigars for 8 cents a piece from their cigar factory and newsstand. The later moved the operation to Mira Mar Court with a storefront on Main Street where they sold their famous El Prosito cigar for a dime.

In the end, the business lost out to cigarettes and only non-cigar businesses in Ybor were left standing. 


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