Tampa began manufacturing cigars in 1886, becoming the city’s primary industry. Tampa went on to be the region’s principal city. But Bradenton could have filled that role instead, according to Manatee County’s first settler Josiah Gates.
Around 1880, Gates was visiting with some Cubans who frequented Bradenton (then known as the village of Manatee) in the cattle trade. The Cuban businessman fell in love with the area and offered Gates to acquire a large section of land to build several cigar factories. He sailed back to Cuba to collect the financing in gold doubloons to close the deal; Gates was sure the other landowners would jump at the chance.
To his surprise, the other residents coldly rejected the idea: they did not want foreigners in their community. The Cuban returned stunned when his lucrative offer was rebuffed.
Josiah related this story in 1910 to a Tampa Tribune reporter, saying, “Just think, boy, if it hadn’t been for the opposition of those old friends, who were contented with things as they were, I might have been a millionaire, and Manatee might have been Tampa.”