Vicente Martinez-Ybor ( C. 1818-1896)
Prepared by the Historical Monument Trail Selection Committee,
Friends of the Riverwalk
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Born in Valencia, Spain to a prosperous family, Vicente Martinez-Ybor was sent to Cuba at age fourteen. In 1848, he married Bernarda Pamela Learas. The couple had five children together before she died in 1862.
He formed his own cigar company, and by 1853 it expanded into a full-sized factory. Martinez-Ybor married Mercedes de las Revillas Salmonte in 1866, and they had seven children together.
When the Ten Years War broke out in Cuba in 1868, Martinez-Ybor supported the insurgents, and as a result, he fled to Key West, relocating his factories there. The island did not completely suit his needs, but Tampa which boasted an ideal climate, a fine port, a new railroad line, and a lower cost of living, certainly did.In 1886, Martinez-Ybor led the way to Tampa for the embattled cigar industry, and Cuban and Spanish workers followed. Tampa’s cigar-producing Latin Quarter soon became known as Ybor City.Martinez-Ybor also invested in the town’s infrastructure, founding a gas company, a paving company, a fire insurance company, and other enterprises.
He built houses and sold them to his workers at reasonable prices. Martinez-Ybor brought in doctors to ensure safe living conditions. He paved the streets and sidewalks. He turned over his old wooden factory to his workers to be used as a theater and meeting place. Martinez-Ybor invested in the streetcar system when it connected Ybor City to Tampa. His successful cigar city also prompted the improvement of Tampa’s port facilities.
Martinez-Ybor died on December 14, 1896. The following day, all businesses in Tampa closed in honor of his funeral.