Eduardo Manrara - "The man forgotten by history"
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Eduardo Manrara

...Eduardo Manrara was born in Puerto Principe, Cuba, in 1842. After studying in local schools he became a clerk in a banking house. This experience would in later years hold him in good stead. Vicente Martinez Ybor, the tobacco tycoon of the time, became acquainted with the much younger Manrara in Havana, and immediately recognized his exceptional talents in finance and commerce, as well as his rapport with people. The acquaintance led to a life-time partnership in business between the two men.

Because of the political upheaval caused by the start of the Ten Years War in 1869, and Ybor's life being in constant danger for his sympathetic views in the cause of Cuban freedom, Ybor prompted to move his Principe de Gales factory to Key West, Florida.

Ybor was so pleased with the thirty years old Manrara, that in 1872, he took him in as a member of the firm. At the same time he took his son, Edward R.M.Ybor, as an associate. Ybor and Manrara were the perfect business combination. Their most famous brand was, “El Principe de Gales”, which had world-wide fame, and other superfine labels were, “Flor de Madrid, La Perla, and El Triunfo”. Since the move to Key West , Ybor was followed by other cigar manufacturers.



Vicente Martinez Ybor




By the middle of 1870´s Key West had become a leading Havana cigar manufacturing center in the nation, and the largest community in Florida, with a population of 18,000 residents. By 1883 the United States Congress passed de Morrison Act. An attempt to spur domestic production of cigars, by placing higher tariff on the importation of finished cigars, than on the raw tobacco used to make them. The result of this proved to be advantageous for manufacturers like Ybor and Haya with the plan of relocation.

By 1885, the labor and political agitators were causing continual disturbances among the cigar makers, threatening the production of cigars and the economy. The situation reached such serious proportions, that Ybor began to consider moving his factory elsewhere. Ignacio Haya, who owned a factory in New York, happened to be visiting Ybor at the time, and was considering moving his factory to a more suitable climate. Eduardo Manrara, who hate to make boat trips from New York to Key West , had just arrived in Key West after traveling, for the first time, by rail via Tampa . While waiting in Tampa to embark for Key West , Manrara had noted Tampa as an ideal location for making cigars.

At this point, Gavino Gutierrez, a good friend of both Ybor and Haya, appeared on the scene. Gutierrez had just visited the village of Tampa to examine the feasibility of processing jellies and guava paste there. Gutierrez came away highly impressed with the future potential of the area. Consequently, Ybor, Haya and Manrara talked with Gutierrez about the village of Tampa. Gutierrez enthusiastically pointed out that Tampa had an ideal climate, with the proper, and necessary humidity for the manufacturing of cigars, had rail connections with northern markets, and was only a day away from Cuba, the source of tobacco and working hands. His reasoning impressed Ybor, and Haya, and they and Gutierrez came to Tampa to look into the possibilities of establishing a cigar city.

“Sleepy Little Tampa ”

After proposals and counter proposals between Tampa Board of Trade and Ybor in Key West, a tract of land that “was nothing but a series of alligator holes, a little high ground, and dense growth of pine, oak, palmetto and underbrush” was purchased from John T. Lesley, the land baron of Hillsborough County , for five thousand dollars. Ignacio Haya and his partner, Serafin Sanchez, Sr., made ready to move from New York. Ybor returned to Key West to prepare to move his Principe de Gales form the island.

Eduardo Manrara, young, and very energetic, came to Tampa and immediately set plans in motion for the development of the greatest clear Havana manufacturing Center on American soil. Gavino Gutierrez, who was a civil engineer, was retained to survey the land, and plat the town. Later “The Tribune” commented; “Little thought the inhabitants of sleepy little Tampa village of the deep meaning conveyed by the arrival of Eduardo Manrara in 1885. This was the most momentous event in the history of that time. The coming Manrara, continued The Tribune,“made it possible to call Tampa , the Havana of the United States , and made it great”.

Negotiations for bringing other factories were at once commenced. This project soon began to show such wonderful development, that in October 10, 1886, Manrara spearheaded the formation of the Ybor City Land & Improvement Company. The officers of this corporation were Vicente Martinez Ybor, President; Eduardo Manrara, Vice President; George T. Chamberlain, Secretary and Treasurer. Peter O. Knight, the 21 years old legal prodigy was retained as attorney for the firm.

The company encourage factories to move to Ybor City , donated land, a large three story cigar building, and a fine residence for the firm manager, to the following cigar manufacturing companies; Lozano, Pendas & Company; Trujillo & Benemelis; Gonzalez, Mora & Co.; J. Arguelles, Lopez & Bro.; Jose M. Diaz & Bro.; and Creagh, Gudnecht & Co. These factories were built in modern style and fitted with elevators, fine tile bath-rooms and brick cellars.

“The Ybor City Land & Improvement Company”, wrote the Tribune, “had been the greatest vital power that has aided in the advancement of this section of the state, and more especially in the growth and prosperity of Tampa ”.



Gavino Gutierrez





Serafìn Sànchez


Manrara is shown second from the left, standing in business suit, and derby.

...During the fabulous eighties, Tampa got its first street railway. This transportation system was financed by the immense funds of Vicente Martinez Ybor and Eduardo Manrara. The company was called the ”Tampa Street Railway”. The line commenced operations in 1886, with C.E. Purcell as general manager. It connected Ybor City,running though a scrub area, to Tampa proper. The line was 3 ½ miles long; with 3 feet 3 inches gauge track (narrow gauge) and owned 8 small cars and 3 wood burning steam engines. The fare was five cents and "ran on a once in a while.” Side tracks were run to the doors of every factory in Ybor City , and cigars and tobacco were hauled to and from the railroad depots and steamship wharfs. After the railway started operations, “The Tribune” gloated; “Tampa can now take its place among the most progressive cities of America.



V.M. Ybor Cigar Co. - building ca.1886

...Years of progress will come, and after the death of Edward R.M. Ybor, a son of Vicente Martinez Ybor, the cigar company became known as V.M. Ybor & Manrara. When the elder Ybor died in 1896, Manrara became the sole proprietor of the factory and continued investing and improving land and property in Ybor City. Manrara's tobacco earned fortune was wisely invested in a variety of enterprises of immense benefit to Tampa . His keen foresight, energy, and perseverance, kept the community constantly developing and up-grading the quality of life.


...Manrara has the distinction of bringing the first “horseless carriage” to Tampa in1901. Whenever Manrara drove his car down the street of Ybor City the excitement of the people bordered on pandemonium with shouts, “the devil wagon!!, the devil wagon is here!! The populace could not understand why a man of such serious conduct become involved with such a ridiculous contraption.

...Mr.Manrara lived during “the time of the titans”. This was the period at the close of the century when business buccaneering spawned by the post Civil War years was being placed by the ascendance of responsible business leaders who believed that business and industry had larger purposes than accumulating wealth.

View of Ybor City in 1886

...At 8 o'clock in the morning on May 2, 1912 a spring day in Gotham, New York,Eduardo Manrara, surrounded by his wife, daughter and four sons, met his final hour. The end had come to the business and financial titan of Tampa in his 70th year. Manrara had been the real “mover and shaker” in converting from a village into a modern city, and Tampa today is better because of him. No matter that still – “The man forgotten by history”


Source: Tobacco Leaf Journal (April 1894) - Tampa Tribune Archives (April 1894) - N.Y. State University Archives Records (1894)

Photos: USF Special Collection - "Once Upon a Time in Tampa" - 2014 - Pg. 52 - Author: W. Reyes, Ph.D. - Historian & Researcher


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