Readers, a Tobacco Tradition

For almost two centuries, throughout the Spanish Caribbean (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 worker committees — unlike public readings in convents and jails — and favorites included good novels, theater, philosophy, even revolutionary manifestoes along with the daily Tobacco Factory, La Habana, Cuba, circa 1930 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 Cigar Makers International Union whose president by 1875, Samuel Gompers, was a founder of the AFL CIO.