Florida Keys Weekly

2 years ago
The humble cigar in a proud man’s hands can change history

When the Cuban insurrection erupted in 1895, Arturo Fuente, a young seven year old from the small Cuban town of Guines was caught up in the revolutionary struggles of his countrymen against the ruling Spanish government.

In 1898 the human outcry from the atrocities of the Spanish Colonial rule of led to the Spanish American War. The 10-week war was notable for a series of one sided naval and military victories for the United States. By 1899, had won independence from Spain but was under temporary control of the United States.

Ensuing political and economic uncertainty convinced 19-year-old Arturo to reunite with his sisters and join relatives already living in . Arriving penniless he received a warm welcome from Antonio, Mariana and Ramon Fuente. For the first time in his life he had the opportunity to live a life free from oppression.

A block from his home was the A.E. Baez cigar factory. Small cigar companies like the Baez factory were called “chinchale” and often consisted of only a few workers. It was here he reputedly apprenticed, perfecting the fine art of rolling cigars before becoming employed at the prestigious Eduardo Hidalgo Gato cigar factory a few blocks away on Simonton Street.

Arturo was finally living in a community with economic and political freedoms he could never have dreamed of while in Cuba. As he walked to work each day along Elizabeth Street and Simonton Street, he passed small businesses such as coffee shops, restaurants, laundries and grocery stores all privately owned by Cuban immigrants.

Many of his fellow workers lived across from the Gato cigar factory in a community of forty cigar maker’s cottages. The cottages were built by Eduardo H. Gato to attract the best cigar rolling artisans. Gatoville was the first successful employee housing in the State of Florida.

Arturo Fuente plied his skills as a cigar roller from 1906-1912. He is the only Cuban immigrant from Key West to parlay his love of cigars and his work ethic into ownership of a cigar factory in Ybor City and the Dominican Republic.

This is the 100-year anniversary of the Fuente success story. His family has passed his passion for cigars on for three generations and the Fuente family reigns today as the premier cigar producers in the world.

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Bruce Neff

Bruce Neff is the founder and executive director of the Key West Historic Marker Project and can be reached at [email protected] For more history, please visit www.kwhmt.org.

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