Ybor Cigar Factory

The Spark That Set Ybor City Ablaze

Built in a remote dirt plot, the Ybor Cigar factory became a behemoth in the cigar industry. Even after its lights went dark, it still stands as a proud monument to the start of a city.

The jewel of Ybor City and Vicente Martinez Ybor’s passion project, the Ybor Cigar Factory was a massive 3-story structure. The factory was believed to be the largest in the world at the time and was renowned for its beauty. On its front entrance steps in 1893, Jose Martí, a fiery Cuban revolutionary, gave a speech to the Cuban workers present.

Vicente Martinez Ybor was born in Spain in 1818 before moving to Cuba in 1832. In Havana he learned the cigar business and opened his first factory. Due to his pro-Cuban revolutionary sentiment, the Spanish government issued a warrant for his arrest. Ybor escaped the island on a ship with his family, making it to Key West where he started another factory. Eventually Ybor moved on from Key West and ended up just outside Tampa, where he purchased land to build his massive factory.

Before Ybor finished building his massive brick factory, he had shanty wood factories set up to start his operation. In the summer of 1886, this factory was finally opened and began producing the El Principe de Gales cigars that made Ybor his fortune. He had several buildings in his new factory: a rolling floor, a pressing ground, and an infirmary that tended to the workers.

Ybor also built housing for his workers, and eventually Spanish and Italian immigrants moved into the area alongside the Cuban workers. These immigrant families formed a unique cultural melting pot and a sense of belonging and community. Ybor had a method of using Cuban workers and Cuban tobacco in his products but doing so in the United States. This practice, which he called “Havana Clear”, made Cuban quality cigars while avoiding the tariffs of importing the cigars from Cuba. This process meant Ybor could sell at a lower cost, making his cigars a hot commodity. His factory pumped out tens of thousands of cigars a day. The major success of the Ybor Cigar Factory as well the success of other factories that were built afterward led Tampa to annex Ybor City.

Even after Ybor’s death in 1896, the building served as a cigar manufacturing plant into the 1940’s. However, the factory was not immune to the decline of the industry and its doors were closed. It was abandoned, then went through phases as an art studio before eventually being turned into a marketplace. The current owners of the building, the Church of Scientology offer a tour that shows off what the interior of the rolling grounds would have looked like as well as Ybor’s office. While the factory is no longer churning out cigars, the spark it lit in Ybor City helped to build the vibrant community still seen today.

Images

Ybor Cigar Factory

Ybor Cigar Factory

A picture of the Ybor Cigar Factory in 1916 | Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/82/Yborcigarfactory.jpg | Creator: Unknown View File Details Page

Ybor Cigar Factory (Modern)

Ybor Cigar Factory (Modern)

A photo of the original site of the Ybor Cigar Factory | Creator: Sebastian Leon View File Details Page

Ybor Cigar Factory (Modern)

Ybor Cigar Factory (Modern)

A photo of the original site of the Ybor Cigar Factory | Creator: Sebastian Leon View File Details Page

Access Information:

Private property

Street Address:

1300 E 8th Ave, Tampa, FL 33605 [map]

Cite this Page:

Tyler J. Santana and the Tampa Historical Team, “Ybor Cigar Factory,” Tampa Historical, accessed July 21, 2019, http://tampahistorical.org/items/show/126.

Share this Story