Florida Tobacco

Florida Tobacco

The American is Drew Newman’s bold vision for the future of J.C. Newman Cigars. It is the first Tampa handmade American Puro in almost a century. Tampa was the cigar capital of the world from the founding of Ybor City in 1886 to the beginning of the Cuban Embargo in 1961. This was because most Tampa handmade cigars were Habana Puros or Havana Clears. Cuban tobacco was highly prized for its aroma and body and, prior to the embargo, easy to import. Florida tobacco, however, was also highly prized for its aroma and body.

A report from the US Department of Agriculture in 1900 graded Florida-grown Habano Seed tobacco the equal of Sumatran and Cuban tobacco, the premier wrappers of the time. Owing to the union of tobacco growing methods from the American South and Cuba, Florida was one of the largest growing cigar tobacco states in terms of acreage in the early 1900’s. J.C. Newman Cigar Co. historically used Florida tobacco in some form for its cigars since the company’s inception in 1895. Florida hit a tobacco slump in 1977 and no cigar tobacco was grown in the state until the efforts of Jeff Borysiewicz in 2013. Borysiewicz’s Florida Sungrown is an exceedingly rare Corojo 99 crop that is used primarily as the wrapper for The American. Although The American is a totally singular cigar, it represents a continuation of the traditions of the Florida Tobacco industry and the J.C. Newman Cigar Co.

Sunshine State of Mind

Despite being a hallmark of the American cigar industry in the early 20th Century, making cigars entirely from imported Cuban tobacco was a luxury few cigar manufacturers enjoyed. The majority of cigar manufacturers relied upon domestic cigar tobacco for filler and binder tobaccos. Julius Caeser Newman, the founder of J.C. Newman Cigar Co., utilized Ohioan domestic tobaccos, such as Zimmer Spanish or Gebhardt Ohio Broadleaf, as filler and binder for his cigars until the company relocated to Florida in 1954.  Wrapper tobacco, however, was mostly imported from Cuba and Sumatra. American cigar manufacturers viewed domestic tobaccos as too low quality to be used as wrapper tobacco. Notable exceptions to this assumption were Connecticut Broadleaf, Connecticut Habano Seed, Florida Sumatran, and Florida Habano Seed. Tobacco was first grown in Florida in 1829, and Floridian farmers were growing Habano Seed tobacco for cigar wrappers by 1860. According to the Secretary of Agriculture’s report in 1898,

Florida-grown Sumatran tobacco was of such high quality that it stood ready to drive imported Sumatran tobacco from the market. When shipments from Cuba became unavailable due to the Spanish-American War in 1898, many Floridian cigar manufacturers turned to domestic tobacco to make their cigars. Floridian farmers mimicked semillero (tobacco nurseries before the plant is transported to the main field) growing techniques from Cuban tobacconists to increase their crop yield and the quality of their tobacco. In 1915, Florida produced 3, 549, 000 pounds of tobacco! This tobacco was then distributed all over the country. Long before moving to Tampa, J.C. Newman was familiar with Florida Tobacco.

Problems, Domestic and Foreign

Because J.C. Newman Cigar Co. is a family-owned business, each generation of Newman leadership presents a new vision for the company. Under the leadership of J.C. Newman, Florida tobacco represented a way to sustain the business during domestic troubles. During the War Boom of 1945, the large tobacco trusts created an oligopoly over the critically important Connecticut Shadegrown wrapper tobacco. Smaller firms were unable to compete and, one by one, submitted to consolidation. J.C. Newman resisted the tobacco trusts by using Florida tobacco.

Florida Sumatran and Habano Seed provided an alternative for the company until the US Department of Agriculture was able to regulate tobacco purchasing rules. Florida tobacco came to the company’s rescue a second time in the 1960’s. The Cuban Embargo of 1961 was the death knell of Havana Puros or Havana Clears in Tampa. Rushing to find an alternative, Stanford Newman purchased Florida Shadegrown tobacco from Angel Oliva in Quincy, Florida. This light, candela tobacco served as a suitable wrapper tobacco until Stanford attended to his first African Cameroon Tobacco Inscription in Paris in 1968. African Cameroon Wrapper (ACW) tobacco became the wrapper of the Cuesta-Rey #95, J.C. Newman Cigar Co.’s flagship product until the 1990’s. Costs of domestic farm labor made it increasingly less profitable to grow tobacco in Florida. By 1977, no Floridian farms were growing tobacco for cigar manufacturing purposes.

 

Ain’t Like That No More

When asked about the rise and fall of Florida tobacco, Jeff Borysiewicz said it never really fell. Rather, Floridian farmers damaged the reputation of the crop through dubious business practices. Farmers would double as tobacco dealers and sell their premiere tobacco to cigar manufacturers as imported Cuban and Sumatran tobacco, pocketing tariff duties from their clueless marks. The inferior grade tobaccos were correctly labeled as Florida-grown, causing harm to the crop’s prestige. As farm labor costs mounted, Floridian farmers were reluctant to continue growing a crop with a bad reputation. Borysiewicz’s farm in Clermont, Florida resurrected the status of Florida tobacco. Borysiewicz’s Florida tobacco now adorns Davidoff, Drew Estate, and J.C. Newman Cigar Co. cigars. Just as the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. maintains Tampa’s status as the Cigar City with their historic “El Reloj” cigar factory, Borysiewicz preserves the reputation of Florida tobacco. Drew Newman utilizing Florida Sungrown wrapper on The American cigars represents a remarkable innovation of an American puro cigar, but it also represents a continuity of Florida’s heritage and the Newman family tradition.

 

About Holden Rasmussen

 

Holden Rasmussen is a Museum Associate at the “El Reloj” Factory Museum. His duties include conservation, collection management, gift shop sales, and docent work. He is a new college graduate who has worked and volunteered at museums and archival facilities in different parts of the country. Holden enjoys the American outdoors, French electronic music, Yugoslav militaria, Japanese comics, and Cameroon tobacco.

El Lector: The Voice of Ybor City

El Lector: The Voice of Ybor City

The E. Regensburg & Sons Cigar Factory, otherwise known as “El Reloj,” is currently receiving extensive renovations under the stewardship of the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. The Newman Family is restoring “El Reloj” to its pristine, 1910 condition as a way of giving back to the City of Tampa. The restored factory will feature a museum and factory store open to the public, as well as another homage to the cigar heyday of Tampa: a handmade cigar factory.

Located on the factory’s third floor and opposite of the filler department, the handmade cigar factory creates a premium cigar output from more than a dozen torcedores, or cigarmakers. When it opened its doors in 1910, “El Reloj” contained hundreds of torcedores rolling historic brands now in the Newman portfolio, such as The American or Admiration. Another iconic feature of the Tampa handmade days that the Newman family revived with their factory renovations is the institution of El Lector. The lector was an educational institution for the workingmen of Ybor City from 1886 to 1931. The lectors themselves, men such as José Dolores Poyo (a biographer and friend of the Cuban national hero José Martí) or Victoriano Manteiga (founder of the trilingual La Gaceta newspaper in Ybor City), read everything from Spanish Golden Age classic literature to local baseball scores for an illiterate constituency which labored all the while. In this way, the “new arrivals” to Tampa were often the most well-read. From the reconstructed lector stage in the new handmade cigar factory, the Newman Family plans to host guest lectors for their torcedores. The cigar city returns to tradition.

The Lector: American Democracy in Little Havana

Though steeped in Latin traditions, the institution of the lector was distinctly American. Anyone was eligible for the role of lector. The requirements were literacy and pronunciation skills. The auditions to become a certified lector lasted around ten minutes and judged the reader for their ability to engage the listener. The torcedores voted on which lectors they wanted to hear, and which books the lector would read. Lectors were paid at the end of the day based upon their performance. The best lectors, such as newspaper editor and poet Ramón Valdespino, earned well over $100.00 per week. (For comparison, Stanford Newman earned about $20.00 a week when he started working for his father in the 1930’s.)

A lector’s daily schedule was split between classic literature in the mornings and local news and baseball scores in the evenings. Most lectors spent the lunch break hastily translating the latest editions of English newspapers into Spanish. Indeed, many lectors, such as Domenico Giunta and Mateo Rodríguez, were learned men and spent their spare time editing bilingual newspapers

Lectors were a common sight in “El Reloj” from its construction in 1910 to the codified proscription of lectors in 1931. Indeed, one of the original lector platforms is still visible on the factory’s third floor, near the filler department.

The Lector: Vox Populi

The Cuban, Spanish, Asturian, Afro-Cuban, and Italian cigar factory workers of Ybor City attributed some, if not all, of their cultural literacy to the content that the lectors read to them. Don Quixote, The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes, La Dorotea, The Mayor of Zalamea, and many other classic titles became household names thanks to the efforts of the lectors. When the lectors spoke, people listened. José Martí, Cuban revolutionary and national hero, chose Francisco María González and José Dolores Poyo, both lectors, as his traveling companions when he came to Ybor City seeking monetary support for his cause. A famous picture at the Martinez Ybor Cigar Factory shows José Martí surrounded by adoring supporters, mostly lectors and torcedores.

 

Sometimes, the attention the lectors generated could be negative. In 1910, after a number of torcedores at the José Lovera Cigar Factory voted for the lector to read a novel with scandalous content (La Canalla by Émile Zola), dozens of female factory workers went on strike and a furious husband shot one of the torcedores in a crowded restaurant. Unfortunately, controversial readings were a trend that would lead to the downfall of the lectors. Cigarmakers Unions asked lectors to promote union membership during their daily readings, much to the chagrin of factory owners. Factory owners feared the lectors might soon promote socialist or communist ideas from their platforms. After several lectors promoted a Cigarmakers Union strike to free the arrested factory workers, the Cigar Manufacturers Association of Tampa formally banned lectors from reading in factories.

Rect. the Lector

After the lectors were banned from reading in factories, the lector platforms were replaced with radios. This indicates more the passage of time and progress of technology than the controversy of the lectors. Why pay someone a salary every week when you could have a $80.00 radio instead? The silver lining for the unemployed lectors is their vast experience in the “entertainment” industry. Many of them found work as radio performers after the lector ban. Manuel Arapicio, a former lector at the Garcia y Vega Cigar Factory, started the famous radio drama Momentos Latinos. Some former lectors, such as Victoriano Manteiga, went on to be newspapermen.

 Despite a century of proscription, the Latin communities of Ybor City fondly and vividly remember the institution of the lector. Eric, Bobby, and Drew Newman have a set vision for the renovated “El Reloj” factory. They want to enshrine forever the cigar heritage of Ybor City and Tampa. Part of this vision is the handmade cigar factory and reconstructed lector stage. America’s oldest family-owned premium cigar maker returns the lector to his rightful home.

About Holden Rasmussen

 

Holden Rasmussen is a Museum Associate at the “El Reloj” Factory Museum. His duties include conservation, collection management, gift shop sales, and docent work. He is a new college graduate who has worked and volunteered at museums and archival facilities in different parts of the country. Holden enjoys the American outdoors, French electronic music, Yugoslav militaria, Japanese comics, and Cameroon tobacco.

J.C. Newman Goes Home: Dom Cigar Shop

J.C. Newman Goes Home: Dom Cigar Shop

Starý Koronč (“Old Koronch”) Vignette

J.C.’s hometown of Koronč was absorbed by the local town Trebišov sometime in the 20th Century. However, the legacy of the Newmans lives on with the “Dom Cigar” shop in the city of Košice, Slovakia. (Pictured above). The owners of “Dom Cigar,” Miro and Maros Bajtos, are proud to have their own family business, just thirty miles from where Julius Caeser Newman was born.

Julius Caeser Newman was born in the sleepy Hungarian town of “Koronch,” Galicia (modern day Eastern Slovakia) in the Austro-Hungarian Empire on May 26, 1875. He was the son of a traveling Talmudic scholar and a tavern keeper. At his mother’s cozy brick house, guests from dozens of ethnic and religious backgrounds were entertained and treated as equals. Twenty small houses clustered around fields and pastureland comprised the village of Koronč. Julius Caeser Newman’s ancestors probably migrated to Koronč from Germany to work as teachers or mine foremen. The region was home to a people who faced famine and economic hardship with a remarkable tenacity. 

The surname Newman is an Anglicization of the Germanic “Neuemann.” Beginning in 1783, the Austro-Hungarian Empire began “integrating” various ethnic minorities with the adoption of German surnames. They literally became new men, as Jews were simply not afforded the same rights as ethnically German Roman Catholics.

Their loyalty to the Emperor during the political upheaval of 1848, however, caused a change of heart. Loyalist Rabbis encouraged Jewish men to join the national guard. As a result, the Emperor exempted them from war taxes and instead allowed them to pay into funds for specialized educational and religious institutions. Julius Caeser Newman would later attend one of these Jewish schools. Julius Caeser Newman recalls in his autobiography, “Smoke Dreams.” The chilly January mornings where he and all the other school children would express their national unity by singing the national anthem of Hungary for the Count’s wife while she smoked a cigar.

As the son of a traveling scholar and an innkeeper, Julius Caeser Newman did not have a wide range of social mobility. Additionally, young male citizens were required to serve in the military for three years with a ten-year reserve billet.

Had he stayed in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he would have been forced to enlist and aid in the occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, then likely spend the remainder of his days as a small tenant farmer in an increasingly anti-Semitic country. And so, right after his graduation from primary school in 1889, Julius Caeser Newman immigrated to the United States, leaving behind the family brick house in Koronč, he became a new man in the United States.

This rest is history!

Dom Cigar offers premium hand rolled cigars, such as J.C. Newman Diamond Crown or Brick House, to Slovaks who just might be the descendants of weary travelers who stopped to stay at the Newman family tavern.

Indeed, the store is dedicated to the man and features his portrait on a wall next to various J.C. Newman brand plaques! Today, the estate of County Andrássy is a cultural museum in Trebišov and the village of Koronč is intact, though still quite small; it is now a place where people have gardens, but do not reside. A few brick houses remain, built on a small creek that runs through the village, though the exact brick house of J.C.’s past is no longer there.

It only took 130 years, but with the help of Miro and Maros Bajtos, the Newmans returned to their ancestral home.

Vincente Ybor: A Cigar Legacy

Vincente Ybor: A Cigar Legacy

Ybor Square (1901 N 13th St.) and the “El Pasaje” building (1320 E 9th Ave.) are oft overlooked fixtures of Ybor City but at the height of Tampa’s cigar industry, these buildings represented the beating heart of Vicente Ybor’s industrial town. Vicente Ybor was a Valencian industrialist who worked extensively with the cigar industry in Cuba before coming to America and starting factories in New York, and later, Tampa.

He bore witness to and, in some instances, affected every major change in the 19th Century cigar industry. Because of his success as a captain of industry and the magnanimity he extended to his employees, Ybor is fondly remembered as the founder of Ybor City

A Young Prince:

 

Vicente Martinez-Ibor was born in Valencia, Spain on September 9, 1818 to aristocratic parents. Seeking to protect their son from military service in the Carlist Wars or Spanish expeditions to North Africa in the 1830’s, the Ibors sent him to Cuba to be a storeroom clerk. By the time he was 20, Ibor had become a successful tobacco dealer in Cuba. He entered the trade right as the international cigar golden age began with importers, such as the Upmanns, hawking Cuban tobacco to every major cigar manufacturer in Europe. Ibor started his first cigar factory in Havana in the 1840’s and was an award-winning cigar manufacturer at Paris Tobacco Expositions within a decade. His flagship brand, “El Principe De Gales,” was known for its quality and craftsmanship.

As a result of the costly colonial wars in the 1850’s and 1860’s, Spain instituted a 6% tax on industrial properties in Cuba. This outraged men like Ibor who were generally loyal to Spain. When the Ten Years’ War (1868-1878) for Cuban independence tore Cuba apart, Ibor financially supported the Cuban separatists in the hopes he would have more economic freedom for his factories. An infuriated mob of Spanish loyalists found out and sacked Ibor’s house, forcing him to flee to America. To avoid pronunciation issues with Anglo-Americans, Ibor changed his surname to “Ybor.”

Tampa or Bust:

 

Hoping to avoid Spanish authorities and labor troubles with his factories in Key West, Ybor sought a far-flung locale where he could totally structure every aspect of his workers’ lives. Ybor was attracted to Tampa by the ample land, temperate climate, and monetary bonuses offered by the Tampa Board of Trade. He began planning a company town with his business partner Eduardo Manrara and architect Gavino Gutierrez, whose namesake 7th Avenue building is the current home of Nicahabana and Tabanero cigars.

 

Ybor City provided its inhabitants better public utilities than most other places in the American South. “La Iguala” was an Ybor city medical service which provided cigar workers with clinic visits for ten cents a week. Ybor’s other business ventures, such as the Ybor City Land and Improvement Company and the Florida Brewing Company, created hundreds of jobs outside of his cigar factory. Ybor made Tampa the cigar city.

Father of the City:

Ybor was a very paternalistic industrialist. He threw lavish parties and picnics for his cigar workers. He even invited his entire payroll over to his mansion to spend Christmas Eve with him in 1887. This allowed him to soothe disgruntled workers and prevent most labor disputes.

Ybor passed away in 1896 from an infected liver. He lived just long enough to secure his legacy. Besides turning Tampa into an economic powerhouse, he was a necessary catalyst to move the cigar industry to its next stage of evolution. Ybor’s funeral was the largest funeral Tampa has ever seen, with a procession that stretched for almost two miles. Ybor was highly respected by both the Anglo-American community of Tampa and the Latin communities of Ybor City and West Tampa.

Legacy

At one point, Ybor was called the most intelligent man in the cigar industry. His foresight in coming to Tampa attests to that claim. Ybor’s business vision and personability would certainly benefit the cigar industry today, but his semblance can be seen in the business ethics of the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. The dedication the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. shows towards the quality of its products as well as the deliberate efforts taken to treat its employees fairly and give back to the public mark it as the legal issue of Ybor. The renovated J.C. Newman Cigar Co. “El Reloj” factory store and museum pays homage to the legacy of Ybor and the cigar industry in Tampa.

About Holden Rasmussen

 

Holden Rasmussen is a Museum Associate at the “El Reloj” Factory Museum. His duties include conservation, collection management, gift shop sales, and docent work. He is a new college graduate who has worked and volunteered at museums and archival facilities in different parts of the country. Holden enjoys the American outdoors, French electronic music, Yugoslav militaria, Japanese comics, and Cameroon tobacco.

Sanchez y Haya Cigar Factories

Sanchez y Haya Cigar Factories

First Puffs

Ybor City may bear the name of Vicente Ybor, but his friend and business rival Ignacio Haya will forever be enshrined as the man who started the cigar industry in Tampa. Ignacio Haya was born in Escalante, Spain on December 8, 1842 to landed gentry parents who had ties to Spanish aristocracy. Because he was not the firstborn son, Haya sought his fortune in the new world and, at the age of twenty-five, founded the Sanchez y Haya Cigar Co. in New York. It was in New York that Haya met his business partner, an Asturian immigrant and businessman named Serafin Sanchez.

Haya was one of the first cigar manufacturers to use the “Havana Clear” or “Pure Havana” process in his factories. Similar to other importers, such as the Upmanns, purchasing the raw tobacco allowed him to avoid duties on imported cigars. The Havana Clear method allowed Tampa to become the cigar capital of the world. Haya was also an advertising whiz regarding cigar box lithographic prints or “vistas.” Haya featured popular celebrities or historical figures on his box art, such as playwright William Shakespeare or actress Fannie Davenport. This propelled him into larger and larger shares of the market.

New Horizons

In 1900, as many as seven out of ten American men were smoking cigars. From 1870 to 1900, there was exponential growth for the cigar market. Increased production demands in the 1880’s led to unethical labor practices and, consequently, powerful unions. Seeking to avoid the long arm of the (labor) law, cigar manufacturers in New York and Key West began looking for alternative manufacturing centers. Another concern for cigar manufacturers in Key West was finding cigar factories that would not burn down. The wooden factories of Key West were extremely vulnerable to conflagrations. The fires of collective bargaining were dangerous, but not as dangerous as the literal fires from the careless ember of a cigar roller’s culebra.

When the Tampa Board of Trade offered incentives like no-rent leasing, affordable land, monetary bonuses, and sturdy building materials, cigar manufacturers flocked to the fishing village in great droves. Ignacio Haya and Serafin Sanchez joined Vicente Ybor and Eduardo Manrara, Ybor’s business partner, in the race to become the first cigar manufacturer with an operational factory. While Ybor constructed his massive brick factory on 40 acres, Haya built a two-story wooden factory on 7th Avenue and 15th Street. Despite throwing them a celebratory feast and taking the time to build them luxurious living quarters, Ybor’s workers went on strike over increased wages in early 1886. This delay allowed Haya to steal the glory of producing the first cigar in Ybor city on April 13, 1886. Forevermore, the Sanchez and Haya factory will be known as “Factory No. 1.”

Golden Dream

Haya’s first Tampa brand, “La Flor de Sanchez y Haya,” enjoyed immense success, in part due to Haya’s quality control in his stripping department. Haya encouraged his strippers to fully remove the central stem of the wrapper tobacco leaves, a revolutionary process for the Tampa cigar industry. The profits from Sanchez and Haya cigars were so immense that the company relocated to a three-story wood building on 17th Street in 1906. At its zenith, the 17th Street Sanchez and Haya factory produced 500,000 cigars a day! In 1922, the original “Factory No. 1” was demolished to make way for a new post office. The 17th Street Sanchez and Haya factory was also demolished in the 1950’s to make way for I-4. The final incarnation of “Factory No. 1” was the iconic three-story brick building on 13th Avenue.

Sanchez and Haya occupied the 13th Avenue building throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s, until the company was dissolved in 1950. Originally, the 13th Avenue building was constructed for Gonzalez-Mora & Co. in 1908 but became the rented home to dozens of cigar companies as smaller manufacturing firms were bought out and consolidated in the mid-20th Century. The factory today is used as a U-Haul storage facility and rests prominently off I-4. Haya’s fortune came not from cigars, but from real estate. The Sanchez & Haya Real Estate Co. was incredibly influential in North Ybor. In fact, the concrete storefront across the street from the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. was, at one time, owned by the Sanchez & Haya Real Estate Company. This is similar to how Ybor’s fortunes came from the Tampa Bay Brewing Co. and his cigar factories.

Legacy

Serafin Sanchez passed in early 1894 and Ignacio Haya followed soon after in May of 1906. The rest of Ybor City’s fathers died contemporaneously, passing the destiny of the city onto the next generation of businessmen and cigar manufacturers. Although they did not live to see the cigar golden age of the early 1900’s or the cigar boom of 1990’s, the entrepreneurship and vision of men like Ignacio Haya made all future events in the cigar industry possible. The J.C. Newman Cigar Co. would never have come to Tampa in the first place if not for the sacrifices of men like Sanchez and Haya. Now, the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. honors their legacy by perpetuating Tampa’s identity as the cigar city.

About Holden Rasmussen

Holden Rasmussen is a Museum Associate at the “El Reloj” Factory Museum. His duties include conservation, collection management, gift shop sales, and docent work. He is a new college graduate who has worked and volunteered at museums and archival facilities in different parts of the country. Holden enjoys the American outdoors, French electronic music, Yugoslav militaria, Japanese comics, and Cameroon tobacco.

Perfecto Garcia Bros. Factory

Perfecto Garcia Bros. Factory

The Perfecto Garcia Bros. factory is a massive brick structure at 2808 N. 16th Street, Ybor City. The factory’s fire-preventative water tower looms like a time-worn megalith for I-4 interstate travelers and beckons to them, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Nothing beside remains. The factory is a relic of Ybor city’s cigar-rolling heyday. The Cuban tobacco embargo in 1960 spelled its slow decline and it was fully abandoned in 1982. Still, the factory is the closest neighbor to the J.C. Newman Cigar Co.’s “El Reloj” factory. Thus, the Perfecto Garcia Bros. factory is the closest to Cigar City’s rebirth.

Perfecto Garcia Bros. Factory Beginnings

The story of the Garcia brothers who founded the Perfecto Garcia Bros. factory mirrors the stories of Ybor city’s other great tobacco tycoons, such as Vicente Ybor, Ignacio Haya, Angel Cuesta, Arturo Fuente, and J.C. Newman.

Perfecto Garcia & Brothers was established in 1905 by Asturias – Oviedo. Spain. Born Perfecto Garcia, (1870-1930). He arrived in Chicago from Cuba in 1895. He sent for his brothers Angel, Jose, and Manuel also from Spain to run the various cigar ventures in Chicago and Tampa along with him.

Once the Garcia brothers established a cigar empire in the Windy City, they sought a supply of Tampan cigars rolled from the finest Cuban tobaccos.

Life in Tampa

Another parallel to the great Tobacconists of Ybor, their first Tampa factory venture burned down sometime between 1905 and 1908. After temporarily using the Sanchez & Haya Co.’s Factory #1 (“La Flor de Sanchez y Haya”), the Garcia brothers built the 16th Street Perfecto Garcia Bros. factory in 1914. The factory opened its doors in 1917 and employed 1,200 people. 

The tobacco used in the Perfecto Garcia Bros. factory’s hand-rolled cigars was a mélange of Garcia family farm tobacco from Florida and Oliva Tobacco Co. tobacco imported from Cuba. Their three best-selling brands were Perfecto Garcia, La Amita, and Perla Del Mar.

Changes to the Factory

Sadly, the Perfecto Garcia Bros. were not immune to the depredations of the cigar industry during the 20th Century. The Cuban embargo of 1960, mechanization, increased wages, cigar/tobacco taxes, low demand, and collectivization forced the Garcia brothers to sell their factory to the Havano Cigar Co. The new owners brought in American Machine and Foundry (AMF) hand-assisted rolling machines to remain competitive with a daily production rate of 60,000 cigars, but even this proved insufficient. The factory was sold again to United States Tobacco who abandoned it in 1982, relocating operations to modern factories in Pennsylvania.

Rebirth on the Horizon for Perfecto Factory

Although dormant, the Perfecto Garcia Bros. factory is a Romanesque Revival brick wonder and a beautiful reminder of Ybor City’s heritage. The factory is three stories high and built east to west, a common ergonomic feature before the mass use of electrical lighting and air conditioning. The property has changed hands many times but the newest owners aspire to make the factory into a co-op space, such as the Oxford Exchange or the Tampa Armature Works. The J.C. Newman Cigar Co.’s factory renovations and new cigar history experience tour working in conjunction with the newest incarnation of the Perfecto Garcia Bros. factory would be a welcome Renaissance for North Ybor.

 

About Holden Rasmussen

Holden Rasmussen is a Museum Associate at the “El Reloj” Factory Museum. His duties include conservation, collection management, gift shop sales, and docent work. He is a new college graduate who has worked and volunteered at museums and archival facilities in different parts of the country. Holden enjoys the American outdoors, French electronic music, Yugoslav militaria, Japanese comics, and Cameroon tobacco.