The statue of Ybor shows the man himself, dressed in a three-piece suit with an umbrella and his hat. The surrounding area is much more of a tourist area than anything now, with fast food restaurants, convenience stores, and bars providing the backdrop to the statue. The plethora of cigar stores nearby stand as a sort of tribute to Ybor’s vision, with hand rolled cigars offering a reminder of the area’s proud heritage.
Vicente Martinez Ybor was born in Valencia, Spain on September 7, 1818. His mother sent him away to Cuba at the young age of 14 to avoid compulsory military service in Spain. He arrived in Cuba in 1832, working in a grocery store to help provide for himself. At the age of 38, Vicente Ybor founded a cigar company in Havana, Cuba. After his El Principe de Gales brand cigars exploded in popularity, his factory began making upwards of 20,000 cigars a day. During his time in Cuba, Ybor became passionate about the cause of Cuban independence. He began supplying Cuban rebels with resources to aid in their cause, but the Spanish government soon found out. They issued a warrant for his arrest, forcing Ybor to flee with his family to Key West.
Ybor arrived in Key West in 1869 and wasted little time opening a new factory. He employed mostly Cuban workers and used Cuban tobacco, calling this method “Havana Clear.” By rolling and producing the cigars in the U.S., Ybor was able to avoid the high tariffs that were levied on finished cigars imported from Cuba.
Despite this, his labor supply and other issues led Ybor to search for a new base of operations. While he scouted New York and Texas, even building a Factory in New York, neither location worked out. Ybor eventually bought 40 acres of land near Tampa to build his new factory. He picked the location as it had good access to the ports, meaning his workers could come from and go to Cuba easily.
Ybor erected his new, massive, 3-story factory here, as well as building housing for his workers and their families. With collaboration between Ybor, his friendly cigar rival Ignacio Haya, and his partner Eduardo Manrara, the land Ybor and Haya bought was combined to form a company town. Gavino Gutierrez planned the layout of the town, which came to be known as Ybor City. Ybor City was eventually annexed by Tampa in 1888 in order to profit off the cigar boom in the town. This move eventually helped Tampa become a prominent manufacturing and shipping town in the South. Vicente Martinez Ybor passed away on December 14, 1896 at the age of 78, his legacy forever preserved in the brick streets and cigars his city was built on.