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October 1, 2016

Readers Played Important Role in Cigar Factories: Rare Photos of Lectors Who Entertained Factory Workers From the Early 20th Century

In the early days of the lector, many cigar factory employees, both male and female, were illiterate. There was a great thirst for knowledge. Lectors read novels determined by consensus. They also read poetry, nonfiction works, and newspapers. The people enjoyed hearing about the parallel universe of Les Miserable. They also favored books by Zola, Dickens, and Tolstoy. Anarchist materials gained popularity as well.

Lectors were gifted orators; some readings might be best characterized as dramatic performances. The men and women sat shoulder to shoulder in large open rooms, rolling cigars by hand. The lectors’ voices needed to project to all corners of these spaces, so they read from atop a specially constructed tribuna or platforms as seen the photographs below.

The story of the lector ended around 1930 with the introduction of mechanized cigar production. Without amplification, the human voice could not be heard above the clamour of the machinery. As a note of interest, the Great Depression and increasing popularity of cigarettes adversely affected the cigar industry and pushed the lector into obsolescence.

A hired reader reads to cigar makers hard at work in Cuban cigar factory, ca. 1900-1910.

Lector in a Tampa cigar factory, circa 1930.

La lectura (the reading) provided an education for the workers, but it also caused friction between the workers and the factory owners. Picture taken in 1909 by Lewis Hine.

Lector reading at Cuesta-Rey Cigar Company, Tampa, Florida, 1929.

Inside of an Ybor City cigar factory, circa 1920.

El Lector reading to cigar factory workers in Ybor City, Florida.

Interior of a large cigar factory, Tampa, Florida.


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