In the early 1940s, Justo Fulgueira worked as a cigar maker in a Ybor City factory when a shortage of cigar molds inspired him to design a fantastic machine. He would eventually become a "master mold maker," and his reputation would be known worldwide.
Before molds and machines, cigars were made entirely by the "Spanish Hand" method. A cigar maker's only tools to perform his trade were a table, a hardwood board, and a sharp chaveta. It was all about skill, technique, and devotion to the art of cigar making.
When the cigar factories opened each morning, workers received an allotment of tobacco and paper (similar to the brown paper we now use to bag groceries). The cigar maker would select his tobacco filler leaves, press them together in his hand to form the bunch and place it in a "binder" leaf (a leaf that is flat and somewhat elastic). Next, he would roll and form the cigar, wrapping the triangular piece of paper tightly around the binder. The cigars would be set aside for up to one hour before the paper was removed and the wrapper applied. The problems cigar factory owners had with rolling cigars in this manner was the inconsistency in the sizes of the cigars and the ring gauge.
It is believed the first molds were invented around 1850 in Germany. Molds immediately made the job of cigar rolling much easier. Apprentices could roll cigars with only a year's training instead of 3 to 5 years.
THE STRIKE OF 1907
The arrival of cigar molds in Tampa was met with great resistance. In 1907 cigar makers went on strike when factory owners insisted molds be used. To the cigar artisan, "hand-rolled" meant precisely that, and to suggest a mold be used was an insult!
The strike lasted 45 days, and after extensive negotiations, cigar makers reluctantly agreed to use molds and returned to work. Factory owners were delighted. They loved the shorter time it would take to train new cigar makers, thereby increasing productivity and reducing costs. As an added benefit, a cigar maker rolling by hand would average only 200 cigars daily, but using a mold could produce over 400 cigars.
With the use of molds, a division of labor occurred. A "bunch maker" made the bunch and then placed the cigars in the grooves of the mold. The tracks were smaller in diameter than the unfinished cigar, so the tobacco would compress to form the cigar. The upper half of the mold was attached, and the two pieces of joined wood were placed into a screw press. Cigars would remain in the mold for approximately an hour. The "cigar maker" would then apply the wrapper and finish the cigar.
Once molds became commonplace, the "Spanish Hand" method disappeared. In time, machines were introduced, which revolutionized the cigar industry. Old-timers will tell you it was the demise of ancient art.
Today, the few independent cigar makers who operate small businesses in Tampa roll by hand. Strangely, using the phrase "hand-rolled" has become acceptable when referring to cigars formed by hand but placed in a mold. The great cigar makers of the past are surely rolling over in their graves at the very thought!
THE BIRTH OF THE JUSTO FULGUEIRA MOLD
Before World War II, plenty of molds were available. However, once the war was declared, there was a shortage of materials, including wood. In 1941, the Ohio company that manufactured cigar molds began instead to produce war materials for the government. This created a severe problem for the cigar factories when their molds broke, and replacements could not be found.
Justo Fulgueira was working at Tampa's Corral-Wodiska Cigar Factory during this time. He had immigrated to this cigar-making town in 1916 at the young age of eighteen. He was born in Lugo, Spain, but wanted to come to America and decided Ybor City would be an excellent place to live and work. He married, and his wife Angelina Martinez-Alvarez purchased a small but comfortable house on 26th Avenue close to the many cigar factories.
Justo worked hard at his job at the factory and earned extra money by repairing cigar molds. Eventually, restoring molds became a full-time job, and he left Corral-Wodiska. As he worked out of the small garage behind his home, he started thinking about ways he could make his molds. He was not a carpenter or a machinist, but he knew how they should be designed.
Justo planned a trip to the small island of Cuba. He knew machines were being used to cut molds and wanted to learn more about their design. He visited several factories during his stay to study the mold-making machines. Returning home, he went to machine shops around Tampa to price parts and purchased individual pieces. He intentionally did not purchase from just one shop–he wanted to protect his idea. What he was doing had to remain a secret! Justo continued to repair molds and worked on his invention in his spare time. After many years of designing and building, his machine was finally ready, and in 1958 the first Justo Fulgueira mold was made!
Production began, and Justo was determined that his molds would be the finest. After years of making repairs, he knew it was important that quality hardwood be used so the molds would withstand the pressure of the powerful screw presses.
The mold was constructed of two parts–the top and the bottom. Both parts had ten slots for cigars and fit perfectly when placed together. Round wood pegs were inserted to hold the two parts tightly.
Business took off quickly, and factories in Tampa were happy to have a local manufacturer of cigar molds. Justo's reputation grew; before long, he was shipping to factories across the United States and other countries. He kept his prized machine under lock and key and soundproofed the room so the loud sawing and cutting of the wood would not disturb neighbors. When buyers or cigar makers visited, they could not see the machine. Even family members were kept away. Glenn Fulgueira, Justo's grandson, said he remembers how secretive his grandfather was about his invention–the garage was a forbidden place even for him!
Justo's wife, Angelina, and his daughter Hilda helped him in the business. Hilda was a schoolteacher by day and handled the bookkeeping for the company in the evening. His son Gonzalo worked at the same factory where his father had worked and helped in the business part-time. In a 1971 interview with the Tampa Tribune, Justo said he was backlogged with many orders from Spain, Nicaragua, Mexico, and several other countries. A German manufacturer had stopped producing molds years earlier, so his molds were the only ones being made worldwide.
GONZALO TAKES OVER
Eventually, Justo cut back on his hours and wanted his son Gonzalo to take over the business. The job of making cigar molds was highly physical. Gonzalo quit his job as a foreman at Corral-Wodiska Cigar Factory and became Tampa's new "mold master." His mother, Angelina, and his sister Hilda agreed to continue helping in the business, and his father provided guidance and direction when needed.
After he retired, Justo Fulgueira had more time with family and friends. He liked going to the Centro Asturiano clubhouse daily to play cards and drink café con leche with men he had known for years. It was time for him to enjoy his life.
Justo Fulgueira died in 1977 at the age of 79. His family remembers him as a man of high integrity who believed in making quality molds and charging a fair price. It was essential for him to meet his promised delivery dates to customers. He instilled these same qualities in his son Gonzalo who continued to run his father's business until he died in 1998.
THE LEGACY CONTINUES
The molds made by Justo Fulgueira continue to be used by cigar makers today. If you see a wood mold in your travels, pick it up and see if you find Justo FulgueiraTampa, Florida, stamped on the front. You will hold a piece of Tampa's cigar history if you do.
Today, this thriving business is run by Gonzalo's daughter Vicky and her husband, David Lay. They remain swamped, taking orders from all over the world for wood and plastic molds.
Justo's machine is not used much these days, replaced years ago by a factory-made model, but don't worry, his machine sits nearby and can still carve out a beautiful mold. Vicky said they still receive knocks on their door occasionally from cigar makers who only want one or two molds. They try not to turn anyone away and will crank up the old machine.
CIGAR CITY MAGAZINE- JULY/AUGUST 2006
Art & Photography Contributors: Hillsborough County Public Library, Tampa Bay History Center, The Florida State Archives, The Tampa Tribune/Tampa Bay Times, University of South Florida Department of Special Collections, Ybor City Museum Society, private collections and/or writer.
MARILYN L. FIGUEREDO
Marilyn was Cigar City Magazine's co-owner and managing editor until her passing in 2007. Marilyn was born in 1948 in Tampa, where she lived her entire life and, more specifically, her early childhood in Ybor City. After a successful 30-year career at Delta Air Lines, Marilyn embarked on what became her true passion: reinvigorating the colorful, multicultural history of Ybor City through the lives and personal stories of the families and individuals who made up the uniqueness of this Tampa quarter. She did this primarily through Cigar City Magazine, serving on various committees and organizations, and attending cultural events throughout Tampa. Her work alongside her niece Lisa Figueredo, founder and Publisher, was instrumental in producing Cigar City Magazine.
Marilyn's legacy will live forever throughout the pages of Tampa's first historical magazine–CigarCityMagazine
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