The Rich History of The Original Key West Cigar Factory
Fleeing the revolt against Spain in 1868, Cubans originally migrated to Key West and brought the Havana cigar business with them. These cigar makers imported tobacco leaf from Cuba and started rolling. Their product was called "Clear Havana" because little tax was demanded by Spain for raw leaf product compared to finished cigars; "clear" meaning "without tax due". And with that benefit, they began producing Havana cigars, from Havana leaf, rolled by Cuban rollers in Key West. In 1880 the young American tobacco business came to Key West when Sam Seidenberg built and opened a plant in Key West to make Clear Havana's to supplement his domestic cigar business. Factories were built where Cuban immigrants lived and worked and taught their skills to more than one generation of rollers. Demand increased and, by the mid-1880's, Key West reached a record of 62 million cigars shipped annually.
The good times were short lived. In 1885 a labor strike crippled the industry and started the exodus of manufacturers from Key West. Then, in 1886, just as the strike was over a devastating fire that started in one of the cigar plants swept across the island. The fire destroyed over 50 buildings including many cigar plants and the cigar box manufacturer. Only one plant was spared. While many were rebuilt within a few years the beginning of the end was in sight. The final nails in the coffin of the Key West cigar makers were the back to back hurricanes in 1909 and 1910. Plants recently rebuilt were wiped out. Finally the domestic cigar business migrated to machine made stogies, and the nickel cigar was born just in time for the Great Depression when no one could afford the luxury of Cuban cigars.
Time rolled forward, political situations changed and in the early 1960's, Key West was once again the beneficiary of an influx of people and from this in 1963 emerged The Original Key West Cigar Factory. Started by Eleanor Walsh in a little shop on Pirates Alley the business quickly grew. The cigar maker in those early days was Talmaege Culmer, widely recognized as the "last of the original Key West cigar makers". We invite you to visit The Florida Memory Project (www.floridamemory.com) for more information and photos of Mr. Culmer.
From 1963 until her death 2003, Eleanor Walsh grew The Original Key West Cigar Factory by taking care of her customers. She always believed in giving them something more than they expected and so always included a book of matches with every purchase. The shop remained much the same throughout the 70's, 80's and early 90's. Eleanor's two daughters and even her grand-daughter were involved in running the business along with long-time associate Paul Cavanaugh. In 1997 the shop was expanded and remodeled to include a new entrance on Front Street. Tragically, a fire in 2002 closed the store and the business transitioned to a mail-order business until January 2007 when it closed.
That's where we come in! Click on the link below and we'll tell you how The Original Key West Cigar Factory is BACK!
So, How Did We Get Here Today?
In late 2006 an email announced the closing of The Original Key West Cigar Factory. Time and circumstances had caught up to KWCF and the business was no longer carrying itself in spite of loyal customers.
After several months of discussion and negotiations with Eleanor Walsh's family, an agreement was reached for Dave Uhlman and Stan Hirschman to acquire the assets of the cigar factory. Their belief was that something this good deserves to be perpetuated and they wanted to make sure that the supply of terrific cigars wasn't turned off. The Walsh family, particularly her daughter Dianne Zolotow, liked the idea of resurrecting the cigar factory and preserving the history that is so closely tied to her mother's accomplishments. Dave & Stan saw this as a way of thanking Eleanora Walsh for her contributions and making sure the historical significance of The Original Key West Cigar Factory didn't pass quietly**.
Dave & Stan re-opened the business as an “online only” business in 2007, not only reaching out to past customers but operating a cart at Front & Duval in partnership with Paul Cavanaugh the longtime employee of Eleanor’s at the original store. In 2010, Paul retired and the cart stopped operations. At about that time David Bevens the owner of the new wine and cigar bar, Cork & Stogie, approached us about a retail partnership. We’re pleased to say that since 2011 our cigars have been proudly offered and wonderfully supported by David and his family at Cork & Stogie, 1218 Duval St.
Dave & Stan operated the business from July 2007 until Stan retired in 2014. In 2012 they introduced a Super-Premium line of cigars named Talmaege, named for Eleanor’s long-time roller Talmaege Culmer who passed many years ago. These cigars represent his commitment to quality - and they represent him well. In 2013 a bright new yellow logo band was added for the first time to the KWCF line of cigars. The Logo T-Shirts and Hats were re-designed in bright yellow to compliment the new look. Also added was a full lineup of Cigar Accessories including humidors, lighters, ashtrays and cutters. These successes along with a partnership with Cork&Stogie, a wine and cigar bar in Key West, carried the business through until August of 2018.
On August 1st, 2018 The Original Key West Cigar Factory was sold to David & Leslie Bevens the proprietors of Cork & Stogie. With that sale, KWCF is once again at home in Key West.
Please let us know how we're doing – your support is appreciated and we'll keep the cigars coming as long as we have your confidence.
Welcome to The (new) Original Key West Cigar Factory!
**On a side note, the City of Key West, in conjunction with the Key West Historical Society, has created a display of the golden age of cigar making in Key West at the Fort Martello on Roosevelt at the Key West Airport and we've donated some of the historic cigar benches, presses and other KWCF paraphernalia to the museum. Please be sure to visit the museum when in Key West.
"Just tried my first Talmaege. Excellent smooth cigar!! Really happy to see you revive and preserve Key West History. Keep up the good work."
Tim D - Sept 2015
"Hey Dave - Elegante is another premium cigar! Nice, Moist, Fresh Tasting. Kudos!"
"Thanks Dave - the lighter is fantastic! Probably the best buy I've made. Thanks for the great service."
"Received them today and the hubby already had one. Thanks so much, you guys are awesome, just like your cigars!"
"Welcome Back, I'm glad to see the return of my favorite cigar store."
"What fantastic news!!! I shared those House Special with a number of friends for our smoke sessions. All liked them. When I shared the store was gone they were unhappy. Now will get a hold of them and let them know the good news."
"25 very fresh El Hemingways arrived in Redding today. I can't get anything to San Francisco in two days the way you did from (KWCF). Thanks so much. Eleanor would be so pleased you are keeping tradition alive. Can't wait, being so glad this part of the deep past will continue."