Swisher’s mechanization allowed it to prosper during the Great Depression by producing millions of cigars and offering them at a cheaper price than their competitors. By the 1930s, Swisher’s workforce had grown to 3,000 and its Jacksonville factory had become the largest cigar factory in the world. In 1939, it became the first business in the country to establish a day car center for its workers.
A closed cigar factory in West Tampa.
Unable to compete and in the midst of the Great Depression, many of Tampa’s cigar companies closed, sending neighborhoods like Ybor City and West Tampa into decline. By 1945, the number of workers employed in Tampa’s cigar industry was less than half of what it was in 1935. By the late 1950s, the number of Tampa’s factories had fallen to 35, employing 6,000. Much of what was left, fell with the United States embargo against Cuba in 1961.
The J.C. Newman Cigar Company in Tampa’s Ybor City
Today, Tampa is still recognized as the Cigar City. However, you’ll be hard pressed to find an operating cigar manufacturer in the late 19th century cigar industry epicenters of Ybor City and West Tampa. While many of the buildings still exist, Ybor transformed into a dining and entertainment district in the 1990s. Only one small factory, the J.C. Newman Cigar Company, employing 150, remains in business. Across the Hillsborough River, many of West Tampa’s old cigar factories are still in search of a second chance at life.
Swisher International’s cigar factory in Jacksonville’s New Springfield neighborhood.
On the other hand, Swisher’s 91-year-old Jacksonville plant is still the world’s largest, in terms of size and production, covering nearly 700,000-square-feet.
Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Davis is a certified senior planner and graduate of Florida A&M University. He is the author of the award winning books “Reclaiming Jacksonville,” “Cohen Brothers: The Big Store” and “Images of Modern America: Jacksonville.” Davis has served with various organizations committed to improving urban communities, including the American Planning Association and the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. A 2013 Next City Vanguard, Davis is the co-founder of Metro Jacksonville.com and ModernCities.com — two websites dedicated to promoting fiscally sustainable communities — and Transform Jax, a tactical urbanist group. Contact Ennis at email@example.com