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Cigar Capital of the World

CIRCA 1890

Historic Marker 31 is located at 540 Greene Street.The production of hand-rolled cigars was Key West's largest and most influential industry during the 19th century, that began with William Wall's factory in 1831 (Historic Marker #13). For several decades, Key West found itself in the right place and right time to capitalize on the growing worldwide demand for quality cigars.At the time, Spain was engulfed in a prolonged revolution in Cuba, the "Pearl" of its colonial empire. Financially drained from seven wars and imperialist expeditions to Africa and the Caribbean, the Spanish government began selling tobacco on the international market. The proceeds were vital to support its troops in Cuba and to crush the revolution there.Meanwhile, conditions were ideal for Key West's development as a leader in cigar manufacturing. Thousands of Cuban expatriates fled to Key West to escape Spain's oppression of their home country. Key West's population increased dramatically. Many of the new immigrants were skilled cigar makers, eager to start anew. In addition, high tariffs were placed on cigars exported from Cuba. Both these factors made it possible for Key West to produce a cigar with the same tobacco and the same skilled cigar work force for a third of the price of a cigar purchased from Cuba.The cigar industry exploded in Key West. It thrived and easily overcame hurricanes, fires and limited transportation. In the 1890's, at the peak of the industry, there were two hundred cigar factories. Some were so large that they covered nearly a city block. Others were small or modest producers that manufactured cigars in wooden houses called "buckeyes."A skilled cigar roller could hand-roll 300 cigars a day, or in excess of one hundred thousand cigars a year. Key West was producing one hundred million hand-rolled cigars a year and was recognized as the "Cigar Capital" of the world.This city block where you are standing was occupied by the Seidenburg Factory, which consisted of four large factory buildings. In 1885, 10 cigar factories occupied the blocks facing this Historic Marker. All the buildings were lost in the great fire of 1886 (see Historic Marker # 28)