Cigar Factory Lofts

Cigar Factory Loft exterior. Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania

1147 North 4th Street

Like so many new residential developments in Northern Liberties, the redeveloped Cigar Factory Lofts reinvents industrial space as luxury apartments. This building was constructed in 1900 by the Theobold & Oppenheimer Company, one of the largest cigar manufacturers in Philadelphia, and converted into loft-style condominiums in 2005. Nineteenth-century Philadelphia was a leading manufacturer of tobacco products, and the many cigar factories of Southwark and North Philadelphia employed scores of Philadelphians, including the city's earliest Latino migrants.

Workers from Cuba and Puerto Rico came to work in Philadelphia's tobacco industry well into the 1950s. Many of North Philadelphia's Latino communities can trace to their origins to the Spanish-speaking enclaves that clustered around the cigar factories of Kensington, Northern Liberties, Spring Garden, and even Southwark. In the early 20th century, the Cigar Makers International Local # 165 was located at 13th and Spring Garden. Local 165 also drew many of its Latino members from the neighborhoods around Marshall Street in Northern Liberties.

By the 20th century, women outnumbered men on the factory floor in the cigar industry. In 1903, women made up 80% of the workforce of the nation's largest cigar manufacturers, most of which were in Philadelphia and New York City. In 1915, Philadelphia's cigar factories employed 4,300 women—more than twice the number of men. Most of Theobold & Oppenheimer's 700 employees were women. Tobacco companies preferred to hire young women, especially immigrant women, as productions workers. Women were thought to be more docile and reliable than men, and usually didn't smoke cigars, and so posed no threat to the product. But most notably, women could be paid even less than men for unskilled labor.