El Lector, Cigar factory reader

El Lector, Cigar factory reader

The reader

As far back as the 1800s, and said to be in as many as 500 factory buildings, cigar factory workers were entertained and educated by “El Lector”, “The Reader”.  The lector, a man (or later, woman) who was charged with reading to factory workers as they sat at their workstations for long hours. Without any heavy machinery to stifle noise, a lector could broadcast his or her voice to hundreds of rollers, keeping their minds engaged as their hands performed mindless, repetitive work. Newspapers were read, and so were novels. Some would work harder and longer if it meant staying to see how a plot would unfold.

Once again I’m completely fascinated by more interesting cigar culture history, from Cuba, to Key West, and up to Tampa Florida, the Lector became part of the fabric and integral to the sanity of the rollers.  Respected in their community and often times recognized for the quality and strength of voice, Lectors were often viewed as an intellectual.

In most cases Lectors were not hired by, or compensated by the factories themselves…encouraged by the factories the workers would give 25-50 cents of their weekly salary to the Lector.  Also, because there was no official relationship between the factory and the Lector…they could be thrown out and refused future work.  If a factory owner held specific political views the Lector had to take care and not offend with opposing views; sometimes it took real skill to inform and educate while not crossing the resident factory line.

The practice of reading aloud while others listen intently as they engage in manual labor has a long and distinguished tradition through out the Caribbean in the practice of cigar manufacture. Because the job of rolling cigar after cigar could become monotonous, the workers wanted something to occupy and stimulate the mind. Thus arose the tradition of lectors, who sat perched on an elevated platform in the cigar factory, reading to the workers. It started in Cuba and was brought to the United States more particularly to Key West in 1865 when thousands of Cuban cigar workers emigrated to Florida to escape Spanish oppression.

The Partagas factory allowed a lector on the condition the factory had approval over what could be read. Novels were rarely a problem, and works like Les Miserables became popular choices. But when papers like La Aurora became more politicized, railing against pastimes like cockfights and billiards and pushing for labor unions, harder lines were drawn. In 1866, Francisco Lersundi, the captain general of Cuba, ordered the police commander to enforce a ban of lectors, with police patrolling the factories to quiet any activity.

It wasn’t until the conclusion of the Ten Years’ War in 1878 that reading resumed, and not until the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898 that the practice was no longer in danger of being stifled. By this time, lectors had evolved from being volunteer workers to full-time professionals, typically from educational or communications backgrounds. Reading materials were voted on by workers. If some were dismayed to hear the works of Rudyard Kipling or Ibsen, they might balk at paying their share of the lector’s salary.

El Lector, the reader

The advent of radio

Unlike humans, stations were inexhaustible, and could offer a variety of dramas, sports coverage, and up-to-the-second updates on world affairs.

While many factories in Cuba and the U.S. had radio equipment installed, a large number did not. Those that did held lectores in such regard that the two diversions began to co-exist, with the lector starting the day with news and historical trivia before a broadcast would begin. Later in the day, they’d resume a novel before once again turning the floor over to the airwaves.

Part of their stability had to do with their expanded roles in factories. A lector was not just a source of white noise, but a liaison between workers and the authors, artists, and politicians who wished to address them from the pulpit. When factory baseball teams needed an announcer for games, their lector was an obvious choice.

The profession remains a fixture of many Cuban cigar factories, where industrial evolution hasn’t yet seen the total obsolescence of hand-rolled craftsmanship. The voice of the lector and lectora has survived both political unrest and the advent of technology to inspire their listeners. It is no coincidence that rollers favored the work of Alexandre Dumas—one of Cuba’s most famous exports is the Montecristo. (information provided by mentalfloss.com)

Let’s wrap this up

My brothers and sisters of the leaf, thanks again for spending this time with me as I attempt to shine brightness on our wonderful pass time.  I hope you found this read interesting and enjoyed learning more about this thing we love.

Until next time, find that special corner and have that favorite smoke.

ThinkCigar…it’s a lifestyle.

cigar tobacco thinkcigar

Cigar Tobacco Types

Cigar Tobacco Leafs


Often when lighting up that special smoke you couldn’t wait to get your hands on, we sometimes pause, look inquisitively at the cigar and ask the question…how did you get here ?  Listen, we know where we purchased it, the alleged countries involved, the brands and bands; but there’s more to consider, the genesis of it all, where did the goddamn leafs come from in the first place. I mean it’s not like Coca Cola, or a Big Mac, for many casual smokers there are unanswered questions that haven’t even been born as questions yet.  Well kids, it’s time uncle Monte, gave you the talk (somebody has to) , it’s just the right thing to do.

questioning face thinkcigar

So right off-the-rip…let’s get your internet parents over at Wikipedia involved:

A cigar with a semi-airtight storage tube and a double guillotine-style cutter

cigar is a rolled bundle of dried and fermented tobacco leaves made to be smoked. They are produced in a wide variety of sizes and shapes. Since the 20th century, almost all cigars are made up of three distinct components: the filler, the binder leaf which holds the filler together, and a wrapper leaf, which is often the best leaf used. Often the cigar will have a band printed with the cigar manufacturer’s logo. Modern cigars often come with 2 bands, especially Cuban Cigar bands, showing Limited Edition (Edición Limitada) bands displaying the year of production.

Cigar tobacco is grown in significant quantities primarily in Central America and the islands of the Caribbean, including Cuba, the Dominican RepublicHaitiHondurasMexicoEcuadorNicaraguaGuatemalaPanama, and Puerto Rico; it is also produced in the Eastern United States, the Mediterranean countries of Italy and Spain (in the Canary Islands), and in Indonesia and the Philippines of Southeast Asia.

The origins of cigar smoking are still unknown. A Mayan ceramic pot from Guatemala dating back to the tenth century features people smoking tobacco leaves tied together with a string.


Ok, now with that out of the way let’s break this thing down:

Connecticut Broadleaf Tobacco

Most cigar aficionados love the earthy flavor and rich sweetness of this tobacco. You’ll find this type of cigar tobacco in your Maduro cigars and it is grown in sunny Connecticut. This type of tobacco is also mainly used for machine-manufactured cigars. You can normally tell if you’re smoking a Connecticut broadleaf cigar by the copious veins on its wrapper. The growth of this tobacco is a result of the many Andes natives who immigrated to the United States.

Isabela Burley Tobacco

This tobacco leaf is world-class. You’ll find these growing in the Philippines in the Cagayan Valley. Isabela Burley tobacco has a distinctive taste and aroma. It’s also one of the highest in demand tobaccos globally  It’s also rather mild, making it ideal if you’re not used to smoking cigars and are yet to acquire a taste for it.

San Andres Tobacco

These are perfect if you’re a cigar aficionado who loves Costa Rica or Mexican-grown tobaccos. San Andres tobacco is derived from rich Mexican soil and seeds in the San Andres Valley. It’s usually used to manufacture Madura cigars. It’s also used as a cigar wrapper. You’ll revel in its smooth chocolaty, and pepper-like nuances.

Sumatra Tobacco

Another derivative of black tobacco, this tobacco has several variations grown in different parts of the world. Some of these variations include Dominican, Cameroon, Ecuadorian, Nicaraguan and dark Sumatran tobaccos. You’ll find the Nicaraguan type in La Flor de Oliva or La Reloba Sumatra. Enjoy the spicy and darker Ecuadorian variety in the form of the upper medium to full-bodied Ligero Cabinet Oscuro. This cigar is not too strong, but can evoke quite a kick. It’s always advisable to eat first.

Olor Tobacco

Also known as Olor Dominicano, this type stems from the Dominican Republic (DR). Its leaves are quite thin and it burns well. The aroma here is absolutely potent. This explains the name, which is Spanish for ‘aroma’. Go to any of the most prominent tobacco shops and you’ll be sure to see these stacked on the shelves. Other flavorful DR tobaccos of note are Piloto Cubano, which is cultivated from Cuban seed, derived from the Cuban Vuelta Abajo region.

shade grown wrapper thinkcigar

Of course there are many other types of tobacco used to make cigars ; but this gives the casual aficionado some ammunition to deal with the know it all, and so called experts (you know who you are) , a little knowledge can provide for a very puffed-out chest…lol.  The soil and the planting, the harvesting drying and curing, the blending of leafs by masters, and the magic hands with skills passed down from family members and mentors all, participate in the dance that delivers.  Behold, this is how the goddamn thing got here.

As I write this it’s Fathers day, I imagine there will be many a cigar in play today…lighting up is a pleasure that’s not so guilty (if you ask me), find that spot for a smoke as special as today, you’ve earned it.  To all who live the cigar lifestyle dream; this one’s for you…smoke em if you got em.