Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Tampa's Finest

We went to the  Tampa Bay History Center Saturday and learned more about the cigar industry at the turn of the twentieth century.  In a previous posting I probably gave the impression that the industry was primarily located in Ybor city.  I should have included West Tampa.  In the history museum there is a whole exhibit dedicated to the "Cigar City".  When I saw the collection of cigar boxes there something clicked in my brain.  Of course, I do remember seeing cigar boxes in the past with the name of Tampa on them.  And for that matter, also the name of Ybor city.  Back then it never meant much to me!
By 1920 the annual output of cigars in this area was 410 million.  The first factory opened in 1886 and by 1920 there were as many as 300 cigar factories working at full capacity.  The largest factory employed three thousand workers.  Black and whites worked side by side and received "relatively high wages" according to museum information.  The finest of tobacco came from Cuba, and in the factories men and women sorted, stripped and blended the leaves, and then rolled them into cigars- there was a lot of pride in the fact that it was all done by hand.  There were also cigar packers, the cigars were shipped out via boat and railroad.  They were "US Made" no import taxes needed.

Not many industries can boast that they have "La Lectura" ( the reading) for their workers.  Lectors, chosen by a  committee of  three workers, read sports scores as well as novels.  Don Quixote was most popular.  Factory workers chose what was to be read.  The book which was used, written in Spanish, was on display in the museum.  Over time the lectors fueled strikes and shutdowns because they started espousing socialist views and the readings were stopped by 1930.  Then the lectures were taken outside where they could be free of censorship.
The cultural impact of the cigar industry was great.  Consider that many immigrants had flowed into this area at this time in our country's history, a good number from Spain and Cuba.  Mutual Aid Societies, providing health and education, were set up to help the immigrants.  During our walk through Ybor City we noticed that one of those community buildings is still standing.   Social activities, as dancing and concerts, were also provided by the organizations.   What a different fascinating time in our nation's history, of course that is over one hundred years ago!

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