Vicente Martinez Ybor

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Vicente Martinez-Ybor
Vicente Martinez-Ybor.jpg
Vicente Martinez-Ybor circa 1890
Born Vicente Martínez Ybor
7 September 1818
Valencia, Spain
Died 14 December 1896
Tampa, Florida, United States
Ethnicity Spanish
Occupation industrialist, cigar manufacturer
Known for founder of Ybor City, Florida
Religion Roman Catholic
Spouse(s) Palmia Learas,
Mercedes de las Revillas

Vicente Martinez-Ybor (7 September 1818 - 14 December 1896), a Spanish immigrant to the United States, became a noted industrialist and cigar manufacturer first in Cuba, then Key West, and finally Tampa, Florida.

Martinez-Ybor is perhaps best known for his founding the immigrant-populated cigar manufacturing town of Ybor City just outside of Tampa, Florida in 1885. It was annexed by Tampa in 1887 and was a major factor in the community's rapid development from a small town into one of the largest cities in Florida and, for a time, the world's leader in cigar manufacturing. In addition to his Principe de Gales line of Cuban cigars, he founded companies selling gasoline, street paving, and fire insurance and invested in the city's streetcar line. His business interests were integral to expansion of the Port of Tampa. He also built worker housing, brought doctors to the area, and converted a factory into a theater for cigar workers.[1]

When Martinez-Ybor died in 1896, much of Tampa closed down to attend his funeral. His has been honored with a statue in Ybor City, and another sculpture is slated to be dedicated along the Tampa Riverwalk.

Early life[edit]

Martinez Ybor was born in Valencia, Spain in 1818.

Cuba[edit]

In 1832, at the age of fourteen, he moved to Cuba to avoid the military service then mandatory for all male Spaniards,[2] and took a job as a grocery clerk before learning the cigar business.[3] In 1848, Martinez Ybor married Palmia Learas, and they had four children before her death.[2]

In 1856 Martinez Ybor founded his own company in Havana, Cuba and began manufacturing his El Principe de Gales ("Prince of Wales") brand.[4] The brand quickly became popular, and Martinez Ybor's factory was soon producing 20,000 cigars a day.[3] In his personal life, Martinez Ybor remarried in 1862. He and his wife Mercedes de las Revillas would have eight additional children.[2]

Statue of V. Martinez-Ybor in Centro Ybor shopping complex

Florida[edit]

Key West[edit]

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, Martinez 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.[4]

Martinez 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.[4]

Ybor City[edit]

Martinez Ybor explored several possible relocation sites for his cigar business. The small town of Tampa, Florida was his first choice due to the low price of land and the transportation links provided by Henry Plant's new railroad and steamship line. Difficult negotiations over the price of a particular parcel of land almost scuttled the deal, but a $5000 subsidy from Tampa's Board of Trade enticed Martinez Ybor to purchase 40 acres (160,000 m2) of scrubland northeast of Tampa in October 1885. By the following spring, Martinez Ybor, along with business partners Eduardo Manrara and Ignacio Haya and planner Gavino Gutierrez, had bought several adjoining parcels and built a company town that was dubbed Ybor City. His cigar factory, an imposing brick complex that filled a city block, was the largest in the world when it was completed in late 1886.[4]

Ybor's cigar factory, c. 1902

Martinez 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. Martinez Ybor encouraged other cigar factories to move in to increase the pool of workers, and welcomed entrepreneurs who founded businesses in the area. He also ran a variety of other businesses catering to the growing community, including a brewery, a hotel, an ice factory, a gas company, and a brick factory, among many others.[5]

Martinez Ybor's plan worked. After a slow start, both his business and Ybor City as a whole flourished, with the area's cigar factories hand-rolling and shipping tens of millions of cigars annually by the late 1880s, the number increasing into the hundreds of millions by the turn of the 20th century. The initially independent town was annexed by the city of Tampa in 1887 and continued to grow and prosper for several decades.[4]

Vicente Martinez-Ybor's grave site in the St. Louis section of Tampa's Oaklawn Cemetery

Death and legacy[edit]

Martinez Ybor's role in initiating Tampa's phenomenal growth in population and wealth in the late 1890s was widely acknowledged and appreciated during his lifetime. After he died in Tampa on December 14, 1896, the headline of the Tampa Tribune read "Great Benefactor Gone" and many of the businesses in town closed in his honor during his funeral.[2][6] He owned so many business ventures and real estate in the area that his partners concluded that there was not enough available capital in Tampa to turn his assets into money. His family eventually did sell off his holdings, but it took almost 10 years to do so.[5]

Vicente Martinez Ybor is buried in the St. Louis Catholic Cemetery section of Oaklawn Cemetery in downtown Tampa. In honor of his contributions to the area's development, there are streets, schools, and likenesses of him around the city, including a bronze statue in front of the Centro Ybor shopping area located in Ybor City's traditional commercial district along 7th Avenue.[7]

See also[edit]

History of Tampa, Florida

References[edit]

  • Muniz, Jose Rivero (translated 1976) [1954]. The Ybor City Story: 1885-1954. translated by E. Fernandez and H. Beltran. private printing.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  • Lastra, Frank (2006). Ybor City: The Making of a Landmark Town. University of Tampa Press. ISBN 1-59732-003-X. 

External links[edit]