Sunday, November 15, 2009

Vicente Martinez Ybor: His legacy lives on

For a man who played such a significant role in the success of our city, whose vision and business acumen put Tampa on the world’s map, you would think that his grave, an above-ground that is more commonly found in New Orleans then in Tampa, would have more “bells and whistles,” or a bit more flash. But it doesn’t, and maybe that’s the way he would have liked it. I don’t know. It is still well maintained in Tampa’s St. Louis Cemetery, but it’s not on any Map to the Stars Gravesites or visited very often; Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris this is not. Vicente Matinez Ybor was born in Valencia, Spain on September 7, 1818 and immigrated to Cuba in 1832. He found work in the thriving Cuban cigar business that would propel him and the entire industry into the stratosphere. He founded his own company in Havana, Cuba in 1856 and began manufacturing his El Principe de Gales - the "Prince of Wales" cigar brand. The brand quickly became popular, and Ybor's factory was soon producing 20,000 cigars a day.

In 1868, war broke out with Spain as the Cubans fought to win their independence from Spain. Even though he was a Spaniard, Ybor took the side of his adopted country and was accused with providing funds to Cuban rebels. To avoid imprisonment he sailed to Florida in 1869 and made Key West his new home. Ybor built a new cigar factory and kept making top quality, handrolled cigars employing many fellow Cubans who also left their homeland and the war with Spain. Though his business did well, he began having problems with the factory workers.

His search for a new home for himself and his cigar factory lead him to Tampa. The Tampa Board of Trade (today’s Chamber of Commerce) wanted Ybor and his business interests and sweetened the offers to him until he agreed and purchased 40 acres of land just east of the city in October of 1885. He moved his factory and workers and named his new town Ybor City. Vicente Martinez Ybor’s business flourished as did the town. The Ybor City cigar industry grew to more than 250 cigar factories with 30,000 employees. Tens of millions of cigars, handrolled and later machine-made, were manufactured and sold generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Tampa’s reputation and renown as the Cigar Capital of the World was well deserved. When Ybor died on December 14, 1896, the man who put Ybor City, the town named for him, and Tampa, on the map left a proud and lasting legacy.

See the original cigar factory Vicente Martinez Ybor built in 1886 HERE.

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Jacob said...

I've heard that in Tampa where there's smoke there's a good cigar. Is that correct?

Another interesting story, Frank. Thank you.

But these cemetery shots are going to be the death of me! ;-)

Clueless in Boston said...

It is a very simple tomb, pretty stark actually.

Linda said...

Didn't know anything about your city's history, so this is really interesting.

Anonymous said...

A good history lesson.

B SQUARED said...

I shall think of him while a light-up one this evening.

Frank said...

@ B Squared - We owe Ybor for the quantity and quality of his cigars and success at making his products the best in the world. It's great when I travel to mention in a cigar shop that I'm from Tampa. Especially the Fuente family and their incredible Hemingway brand and Short Story cigar...everyone in the business everywhere knows Tampa because of Ybor putting it on the map.

Lois said...

That looks good in black and white. At least his grave is marked. My great grandfather's grave in Woodlawn is unmarked.

Anonymous said...

Very nice photo and a good glimpse of the man. Well done and thank you.