Readers, a Tobacco Tradition

For almost two centuries, throughout the Spanish Caribbean (as well as including Tampa, New York, Seville) cigar workers would hire professionals to read aloud while the workers deveined leaves and rolled cigars. Books were chosen by committees — unlike similar practices in convents and jails — and favorites included good novels, theater, philosophy, even revolutionary manifestoes along with the daily newspaper. (Have you ever wondered why some brands of cigars have names like “Romeo and Juliet” or Montecristo, etc?) This intellectual environment of literate and illiterate co–workers generated the first labor unions in the Americas, including The United Cigar Workers Union, established by the tobacco roller Samuel Gompers, forerunner of the AFL CIO.