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The Rich History of The Original Key West Cigar Factory

Fleeing the revolt against Spain in 1868, Cubans originally migrated to Key West and brought the Havana cigar business with them. These cigar makers imported tobacco leaf from Cuba and started rolling. Their product was called "Clear Havana" because little tax was demanded by Spain for raw leaf product compared to finished cigars; "clear" meaning "without tax due". And with that benefit, they began producing Havana cigars, from Havana leaf, rolled by Cuban rollers in Key West. In 1880 the young American tobacco business came to Key West when Sam Seidenberg built and opened a plant in Key West to make Clear Havana's to supplement his domestic cigar business. Factories were built where Cuban immigrants lived and worked and taught their skills to more than one generation of rollers. Demand increased and, by the mid-1880's, Key West reached a record of 62 million cigars shipped annually. 

The good times were short lived. In 1885 a labor strike crippled the industry and started the exodus of manufacturers from Key West. Then, in 1886, just as the strike was over a devastating fire that started in one of the cigar plants swept across the island. The fire destroyed over 50 buildings including many cigar plants and the cigar box manufacturer. Only one plant was spared. While many were rebuilt within a few years the beginning of the end was in sight. The final nails in the coffin of the Key West cigar makers were the back to back hurricanes in 1909 and 1910. Plants recently rebuilt were wiped out. Finally the domestic cigar business migrated to machine made stogies, and the nickel cigar was born just in time for the Great Depression when no one could afford the luxury of Cuban cigars. 


Time rolled forward, political situations changed and in the early 1960's, Key West was once again the beneficiary of an influx of people and from this in 1963 emerged The Original Key West Cigar Factory. Started by Eleanor Walsh in a little shop on Pirates Alley the business quickly grew. The cigar maker in those early days was Talmaege Culmer, widely recognized as the "last of the original Key West cigar makers". We invite you to visit The Florida Memory Project (www.floridamemory.com) for more information and photos of Mr. Culmer. 


From 1963 until her death 2003, Eleanor Walsh grew The Original Key West Cigar Factory by taking care of her customers. She always believed in giving them something more than they expected and so always included a book of matches with every purchase. The shop remained much the same throughout the 70's, 80's and early 90's. Eleanor's two daughters and even her grand-daughter were involved in running the business along with long-time associate Paul Cavanaugh. In 1997 the shop was expanded and remodeled to include a new entrance on Front Street. Tragically, a fire in 2002 closed the store and the business transitioned to a mail-order business until January 2007 when it closed. 
That's where we come in! Click on the link below and we'll tell you how The Original Key West Cigar Factory is BACK! 

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