As the tobacco smoking habit spread around the world, the various preferences established different forms of consumption. Snuff and pipe prevailed at the beginning. Later, it was rope tobacco. There were times in which chewing the leaves was very much in fashion, either in its natural form or in rolls or tablets called “andullos” which was no other but pressed tobacco leaves to which some substance was added. The cigarette was the last “son” of tobacco to show up.
The cigarette starts in Cuba as a home industry. The hands of doormen, slaves, inmates, and soldiers would manufacture them in their leisure time and later would sell them.
In the early times of this industry in Havana, there was a personage that appeared to move between myth and reality and who was known as Pito Díaz. He had been born in Mexico and set up a currency exchange office on Cuna Street – the name for Muralla Street in the section between Oficios and Mercaderes. Right across his office, Pito placed a large metal pan in which, with lemon juice and other ingredients, he polished golden coins leaving them more shiny and attractive. Among his clients, there were numerous tobacco harvesters who would trade the silver coins for gold they received as payment in their transactions. It is not clear how one day, without closing his currency exchange office, he expanded his business by venturing into the manufacturing of cigarettes.
José Mendoza followed suit by establishing his own cigarette business. He had a solid economic position and set up a Factory on Obrapía Street. By then cigarettes were carried in baskets to the selling outlets. Mendoza made a change of direction in the distribution. He started to make use of horse-pulled carts which allowed his production to reach the little towns on the outskirts of the capital.
José García and his wife, owners of another factory, later made an important contribution to the cigarettes market. They provided the retailer storekeepers with shop windows and stands to sell the product. This couple manufactured in their factory, first located in the “Pescante del Morro” and later on Obispo Street, cigarettes of different types which, according to their shape, were labeled as long, short, thick and thin.
It was José Morejón, owner of “La Lealtad,” a factory of cigars and cigarettes, who introduced fanciness in the presentation of his productions by using printed packages for the first time.
However, it was Luis Susini who would revolutionize the cigarette industry in Cuba by introducing the steam engine in his factory “La Honradez,” located on Cuba and Sol Streets. This initiative allowed him to have a daily production of over two million units.
In 1840, there were several cigarette factories in Havana; most of them were extensions of cigar factories. A century later, there were 26 factories in the country that employed almost 2,500 workers, out of which more than 860 were women. In 1951, 512 400 000 packages were produced in the island, each containing 16 cigarettes.Sources: Texts by Fernando Ortiz and José E. Perdomo.