Cuban Tobacco

Date: 1920
Owner: Library of Congress
Source Type: Images


This photographic image depicts a man inspecting tobacco in Cuba in the shadows of an enormous, manmade shelter. For nearly five hundred years, tobacco production had been a crucial component to the Cuban economy. Early production was extraordinarily destructive as deep furrows were cut into the soil, seeds planted, and irrigation systems rerouted water through the uncovered soil. By the end of the 19th century, plantation owners were confronted with a variety of pressing ecological problems, including diseased crops, soil exhaustion, and erosion. To address these concerns, plantation owners, such as the E. Atkins & Co., hired agricultural specialists from the United States to investigate methods of improving production. One of the strategies for reducing erosion was through crop diversification and another was by covering vast sections of tobacco crops with manmade tarps to shade the plants and the soil from the harsh Caribbean sunlight and to meter the rainfall. These tarps rested on pillars of wood cut from the surrounding area, then placed in holes dug at specific intervals to prevent the heavy tarp from falling onto the plants. This image depicts a man inspecting tobacco leaves at about twelve weeks, just before harvest. Notice the pillars placed in rows on either side of him as well as the cloth covering the plants. What are your initial impressions of this construction?

CITATION: Man inspecting shade tobacco in field, Cuba. 1 Photographic Print: 1920. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division: LC-USZ62-96605. Digital ID: 3b42709.