Vicente Martinez Ybor

Vicente Martinez Ybor

Vicente Martinez Ybor (September 7, 1818 - December 1896) was a Spanish American industrialist and cigar manufacturer, best known for founding the cigar-manufacturing town of Ybor City near Tampa, Florida in 1886.

Ybor was born in Valencia, Spain, in 1818. He immigrated to Cuba in 1832, in part to avoid the military service then mandatory for all male Spaniards [ Ybor City Guide - from ] ] , and took a job as a grocery clerk before learning the cigar business [ ybor.html ] ] . In 1848, Ybor married Palmia Learas, and they had four children before her death.

In 1856 Ybor founded his own company in Havana, Cuba and began manufacturing his "El Principe de Gales"("Prince of Wales") brand.] The brand quickly became popular, and Ybor's factory was soon producing 20,000 cigars a day. In his personal life, Ybor remarried in 1862. He and his wife Mercedes de las Revillas would have eight additional children.

In 1868, the Ten Years' War broke out as Cubans fought to win their independence from Spanish colonial rule. Even though he was a Spaniard, Ybor sympathized with the Cuban cause and was accused (correctly) with providing funds to Cuban rebels. He was threatened with arrest and slipped out of Cuba to Key West, Florida in 1869. [ Research | Ybor City Museum ] ]

Ybor quickly built a new factory to continue manufacturing his "Principe de Gales" brand, employing many Cubans who had also left their homeland due to the war. Though his business prospered, conflict between Spanish and Cuban workers, labor unrest, and the difficulty of transportation to and from the island city eventually led Ybor to search for another site.

With the enticement of a subsidy from Tampa's Board of Trade, Ybor purchased 40 acres of scrubland northeast of Tampa, Florida in October 1885. By the following spring, he had founded a company town dubbed Ybor City.

Ybor sought to avoid the constant labor unrest he had struggled with in Key West by providing what he considered good wages and living conditions. His company built small houses that his workers could purchase for cost, hoping that home ownership would keep his employees from migrating back and forth to Cuba, as was common practice among cigar workers in those days. Ybor also encouraged entrepreneurs to set up businesses catering to his employees, and even welcomed other cigar factories to town to increase the pool of workers. His plan worked, and both Ybor's business and Ybor City as a whole flourished, rolling out millions of cigars annually by the late 1880s.

When Ybor died in December 1896 at the age of 78, the headline of the Tampa Tribune read "Great Benefactor Gone." In honor of his contributions to the development of Tampa, Ybor's bronze likeness can be seen at the front of Centro Ybor in the center of Ybor City.


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