Cigar manufacturing in Cuba was in turmoil in the final years of the nineteenth century.
Cuba’s long war of independence forced Spanish cigar manufacturer Vicente Martinez Ybor to move his Principe de Gales (Prince of Wales) operations from the cigar manufacturing center of Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida.[See images below]
Other manufacturers followed the move, and Key West became another important cigar manufacturing center. In 1885, Ybor moved again to Tampa, Florida and built the largest cigar factory in the world at the time – it was located in the new company town of Ybor City, Florida.
Thousands of Cuban and Spanish tabaqueros came to the area from Cuba, Key West and New York to produce hundreds of millions of cigars annually. Friendly rival and Flor de Sánchez y Haya owner Ignacio Haya built his own factory nearby in the same year, and many other cigar manufacturers soon followed – especially after an 1886 fire that gutted much of Key West.
The US consumed about 300 million cigars by the mid-19th century. Cigar output peaked in 1929, when workers in Ybor City and West Tampa rolled over 500,000,000 “clear Havana” cigars, earning the town the nickname, “Cigar Capital of the World.”
There were about 80,000 cigar-making operations in the US around 1905. Most of them were small, family-operated shops where cigars were rolled and sold immediately.
By 1900, four out five men smoked cigars and box design became an important way to differentiate among the multitude of brands on display in stores around the country. Cigarettes would soon enter the market and eventually dominate demand for tobacco products.
Here are some cigar box designs from the era that traded on a Cuba cigar connection that was likely non-existent other than for marketing. Notice the boxes that depict the “New Cuba” and the positive relationship between Cuba and the US after Cuba’s war of independence.