Ybor City lies at the heart of the history of the cigar industry in Tampa, Florida. Founded in the late 19th century by cigar manufacturers, Ybor City blossomed into a thriving port city of multiculturalism and rich history, eventually growing to rival and even surpass Havana in the production of highly sought after quality cigars.
In 1880, Tampa was a tiny city with a population of around 700 people. That would change in just five years, when cigar company owner Vicente Martinez Ybor would buy several plots of land to build both cigar factories and housing for the workers who would fill them. Having moved his cigar business out of Havana due to the Cuban Revolution in 1868 to Key West, Florida, Ybor was looking for a new place to relocate his business yet again, as Key West lacked reliable transportation for distribution of his products and a good water supply. With its port and brand new railway line built by Henry Bradley Plant, the area surrounding Tampa was ideal, and the land was cheap.
Ybor initially purchased 40 acres of land in 1885, on which he built a factory and several hundred houses with which he hoped to attract workers for his factories. It worked; in 1887, when Tampa annexed the area that come to be known as Ybor City, the population had swelled to about 3,000 people, a majority of whom were Spanish and Cuban immigrants working in the cigar factories. Ybor City also began to attract Italian immigrants who had been working in the sugar cane fields of Louisiana, most of whom were from Sicily, as well as Romanian Jews, Germans, and some Chinese. As such, English was largely spoken as a second language for most of the inhabitants of Ybor City, and the many different cultures that were represented there all contributed to the growing economy surrounding the cigar industry. According to historical records, the cigar factories were largely staffed by Spanish, Cuban, and some Italian immigrants, though many of the latter opened restaurants or farmed. Local stores and restaurants were owned and operated by Romanian and Chinese immigrants, and German immigrants were responsible for creating the soon-to-be-famous lithographs that were used on the cigar boxes used to ship Ybor City cigars all over the world. By 1900, Ybor City came to be known as the Cigar Capital of the World, outpacing even Havana in production, and Tampa's population had grown to nearly 16,000.
Ybor City continued to prosper until the Great Depression hit, and cigarettes replaced cigars in popularity. Many of its inhabitants relocated either to their homes or to more prosperous areas in search of work, but the brick buildings of the cigar factories, workers' homes, and storefronts still stand to this day. Today, in the heart of what was once the Cigar Capital of the World, Covadonga Cigars has taken up the mantle of Ybor City's rich legacy of quality cigar-making.