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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Cigar Factory Reader: 1909

Cigar Factory Reader: 1909

"A 'reader' in cigar factory in Tampa, Fla. He reads books and newspapers at top of his voice all day long. This is all the education many of these workers receive. He is paid by them and they select what he shall read." January 1909. View full size.

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Readers, called lectores in Cuba, first appeared in the early 1850s in one factory and within days, the practice spread like wildfire, Workers wanted what workers in other factories had. Readers read books of all types, newspapers, union literature, letters from home or from friends who were travelling... readers were voted on by the workers. Most popular were those with ability to act out the books in a variety of voices. Some workers were paid by the factory. Some received two or three cigars from each worker, which the reader then turned in at the end of the day as if he had made them. Cigar rollers were paid piece rates and a good reader might end up the highest paid roller. Readers didn't read "at the top of their voice" but did the same thing stage actors do... project. Read at the top of your voice and you wouldn't last more than a few days. Projecting is a skill. Most Cuban, Floridian, and New York factories where clear Havana cigars were made employed more than one room of rollers. The reader in large factories would be situated in the middle of the room. As soon as microphone technology became available it was adopted in large shops (100+). Owners hated the readers, accusing them of reading communist, socialist, union propaganda. Basically true. With the advent of radio in the 1920s, workers who went on strike, returned to find readers long gone in most factories, especially in the US (where less than 1% of cigar factories had readers). Women strippers (they cut the mid rib out of the leaf separating the leaf into right hand and left hand leaves) were the lowest paid workers and seldom had readers. Those who did usually got lurid romance novels as their fare. Cuban factories opened around 6 am and closed around midnight. Cuban rollers came and went as they pleased under most circumstances. They were very proud, usually wore ties to work, and considered themselves independent skilled craftsmen. Readers usually read a couple hours in the morning between coffee and lunch and a couple hours in the afternoon. Never all day.

I should get a job like that

Either that, or get my students to *pay me* to teach them! But then they'd get to choose what I teach them, and it probably wouldn't be trig....

Cigar Reader

I'd just watched a documentary about Cuban factories and was seeing something almost exactly the same there.

I just listened to the NPR

I just listened to the NPR piece, very interesting! I love NPR.

Cigar Factory Readers

NPR did a piece on cigar factory readers. You can hear it online (if you have RealAudio... gah!) here.

Re: Reader ?

Guess that's like the old Town squire job of early america (late 1700's)

[I think that's "town crier." - Dave]


Never knew this job existed.

[He's been replaced by the podcast! - Dave]

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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