Tobacco in North Florida

Cigar factories appeared in numerous Florida cities during the late 1800s, such as Jacksonville and the Wanish Factory in Tallahassee. Tobacco remained an important agricultural product in north Florida, particularly in Gadsden County, where tobacco was a chief agricultural product for more than 150 years.

Quincy in Gadsden County was the American center for shade tobacco production, and factories produced cigars and cigarettes in Quincy and Havana, Florida, named after the Cuban capital.

Employees of the Wanish Cigar Factory: Tallahassee, Florida (between 1892 and 1902)

Employees of the Wanish Cigar Factory: Tallahassee, Florida (between 1892 and 1902)

Image number: RC04813

Located at the block between Macomb, St. Francis and All Saints streets. At the left is Cuban born cigar maker Manuel Roffe who trained the other workers.

Workers harvesting cigar wrapper tobacco: Quincy, Florida (19--)

Workers harvesting cigar wrapper tobacco: Quincy, Florida (19--)

Image number: RC05260

The bottom leaves were removed from plants during priming and placed in barges to be taken to the curing barn for stringing and drying.

Alexander McGriff carrying shade-grown tobacco to be dried: Havana, Florida (1956)

Alexander McGriff carrying shade-grown tobacco to be dried: Havana, Florida (1956)

Image number: C023430

The tobacco was raised on H.H. Swisher's tobacco farm for the King Edward brand cigars.

Checking newly hung tobacco in the curing barn: Gadsden County, Florida(196-)

Checking newly hung tobacco in the curing barn: Gadsden County, Florida (196-)

Image number: N043815

Note from sleeve: Jack McMillan 'Riding Bass' for King Edward Tobacco Co.

Workers tie up tobacco: Quincy, Florida(1965)

Workers tie up tobacco: Quincy, Florida (1965)

Image number: PC5858

Shade-grown tobacco is grown for cigar wrappers. Tying up, shown here, provides a cord support for such a rapidly growing, big-leafed plant as it grows to the top of the shade. Gadsden County, Florida, is the major producing area--and one of the only two shade producing areas--in the United States.

A woman rolling cigars in a cigar plant: Quincy, Florida(1946)

A woman rolling cigars in a cigar plant: Quincy, Florida (1946)

Image number: C006205

Close-up view of a cigar from the King Edward Cigars company: Jacksonville, Florida (1948)

Close-up view of a cigar from the King Edward Cigars factory: Jacksonville, Florida (1948)

Image number: RF00808

Children at the King Edward Cigars factory (1948)

Children at the King Edward Cigars factory (1948)

Image number: RF00806

Florida’s Cigar Heritage

Cigar manufacturing took place in all of Florida’s urban areas at some point during the first century of statehood, but its impacts were particularly profound in Key West and in the Ybor City and West Tampa areas around Tampa Bay.

The industry declined from its height in the first decades of the 20th century after years of conflict between organized labor and factory management, the economic changes brought on by World War II, as well as mechanization of production and changing consumer demand for cigars. However, the legacy and cultural impact of the cigar industry and its workers remains a vibrant part of modern Florida.

Master cigar makers demonstrated the art of traditional cigar rolling at the Florida Folk festivals beginning in the 1960s, and Ybor City continues to honor the impact of the cigar industry through the Cigar Heritage Festival.

Although all of the original factories in Key West have long since been shuttered, hand-rolled and specialty cigar shops are a prominent attraction in Key West as the city and its millions of visitors annually rediscover the legacy of the Cuban cigar tradition and the importance of the cigar factories in the city’s history.

Cigar press (1980)

Cigar press (1980)

Image number: FP80153

Talmaege Culmer making cigars at the Key West Cigar Factory in Pirate's Alley (between 1975 and 1985)

Talmaege Culmer making cigars at the Key West Cigar Factory in Pirate's Alley (between 1975 and 1985)

Image number: DM1457

Mr. Talmaege Culmer at work rolling cigars at the Key West Cigar Factory in Pirate's Alley, Key West, Florida.

Mr. Talmaege was the last of the original Key West cigar makers.

Rex Shaw standing in front of his factory on Fleming Street: Key West, Florida (197-)

Rex Shaw standing in front of his factory on Fleming Street: Key West, Florida (197-)

Image Number: DM1473