I know I usually do ghost stories during the month of October, but it also happens to be Hispanic Heritage Month and I thought I should honor that by discussing one of my favorite topics, Cuban cigars. Here’s the story of how they made their way to Bradenton.

The idea was well received. During the meeting, Dr. Shultz, the proprietor of Badger’s Drug Store, pledged $10 toward the project and Sarasota businessman John Savarese optimistically predicted the factory could employee as many as 200 residents.

Thrilled at the reaction of the board, Hill gave members a box of his cigars at the next meeting as a token of his appreciation, announcing, “They were a hit with the railroad people.”

Initially the company offered three brands, Sarasota Board of Trade (amazing what $10 would get you back then), Sarasota and Sarasota Gem. Soon Little Dixie, Simpatica and Habana were added to the product line.

During the first month the company employed four men and produced and exported over 10,000 cigars. The stogies were sold up the coast in Bradentown and Tampa.

The Board of Trade members were soon stockholders and the business was thriving like never before.

Hill expanded and took his business to the road. He was a traveling salesmen promoting his brand and the orders were coming in by the thousands. The number of employees and output had doubled every month since the business started.

A few months after its inception, nine employees were rolling about 2,000 cigars a day.

Hill saw his calling when then Vice President Thomas Riley Marshall, under President Woodrow Wilson, announced, “What this country needs is a good 5 cent cigar.”

Hill priced all his cigars at 5 cents and guaranteed their quality was equivalent to the move expensive brands. They offered fine quality tobacco, drew freely, burned evenly and held fire and ash.

“You never see a butt of our cigars lying around,” he said. “They are smoked as long as there is a whiff.

After 1916, Hill and his family left Sarasota. However, their cigar legacy did not depart with them.

In the 1920s, Michael and Edward Roth began manufacturing cigars for 8 cents a piece from their cigar factory and newsstand. The later moved the operation to Mira Mar Court with a storefront on Main Street where they sold their famous El Prosito cigar for a dime.

In the end, the business lost out to cigarettes and only non-cigar businesses in Ybor were left standing. —

 

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