No cigar can or will ever match the taste and mystique of a Cuban cigar. Cigar aficionados throughout the world agree that there is no cigar of higher quality than a Cuban. Of course, Cuban cigars are hand-rolled, which makes them all the tastier. But have you ever thought about what happens inside of a cigar factory? Certainly, cigar factories don’t make you think of education or learning, but, surprisingly, they were. In fact, while Cuban cigar rollers of the past did not tend to be well-educated and often times were illiterate (Cubans are now among the most literate people in the world), one fascinating tradition from the cigar rolling factories in Cuba is that of the Lectors. But what exactly is a Cuban lector?
The Origins of Cuban Lectors
In 1864, workers in Vina Cigar Factory in Bejucal, Cuba, hired Antonio Leal to read to them as a way to break up the tedium of the day. He was the first lector, which is Spanish for reader. Before long, nearly every Cuban cigar factory employed a lector. While the factory owners were not generally adverse to their employees hiring lectors, they usually weren’t willing to pay for them – workers would have to pay 25-50 cents per week for a lector.
The Lector would start in the morning by reading the newspaper, and then would move to works of literature, philosophy, and other classics. These cigar rollers could quote Voltaire, Cervantes, Shakespeare, and Dumas, among others. Oftentimes, the readings leaned to the left politically, which the factory owners didn’t always appreciate. When the rollers really enjoyed the reading, they would rap their knives on their cutting boards as a form of applause.
Lectors in America
Lectors were also present in cigar factories in Florida until the Tampa Cigar Makers’ Strike in 1931. The media portrayed the lectors as promoting socialist propaganda and there were further strikes based on those accusations. The cigar rollers eventually ended the strike went back to work, but, unfortunately, the factory owners replaced the lectors with radios.
Modern Cuban Lectors
The Cubans have stayed true to their cigar rolling traditions, and believe it or not, lectors are still working in Cuban cigar factories today. So, next time you smoke a Cuban Cigar, honor the lectors and pick up a copy of Don Quixote and read it while you smoke.
Matthew Groner is a Staff Writer for Sporcle. He enjoys foraging for gourmet mushrooms and calculating the odds of the Kansas City Chiefs winning a Super Bowl in his lifetime.