Cigarette Pack Collectors' Association

              The Emergence of the Standard Brand Era 1910-1929

     Reprinted From Brandstand Summer 2009 

    By 1909, James Buchanan ‘Buck’ Duke’s American Tobacco Company had gained control of 86% of the country’s cigarette manufacturing along with a similar percentage of the plug, smoking tobacco, and snuff business and 14% of the cigar production. His ‘trust’ was not unlike the dozens of other monopolies which had been built in the oil, steel, lead, sugar, copper, cotton oil, distilling, linseed oil, cordage and other industries. Along with enormous industrial  growth, this period of business empire building during the late 19th century was  plagued by periodic economic downturns. The most severe of these depressions, which took place in 1893 and 1907, were devastating to millions of Americans from farmers to factory workers and many of those people came to blame “big business” for their woes. President Teddy Roosevelt responded to the call to “break up the trusts” with a series of suits against more than forty trusts and combinations between 1901 and 1909 including Duke’s tobacco combine.

     Although the court ruled that there did not appear to be any increase in the price of tobacco products to the consumer as a result of the monopoly, the combine was judged to have restrained competition in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and following confirmation of the decision by The Supreme Court in 1911, the company was re-divided into its’ component parts. Perhaps because he was the only person knowledgeable enough to perform the task, the court directed Buck Duke himself to dismantle ATC and restructure it into several smaller independents.  The four major companies to emerge from the break-up were: American, Reynolds, Liggett & Meyers and Lorillard. 

     The re-born American Tobacco Company retained most of its’ leading cigarette brands including Pall Mall, Mecca, and Sweet Caporal while Liggett received a substantial portion of the plug and snuff business along with Fatima, Home Run, American Beauty, Chesterfield and several other minor cigarette brands. Meanwhile, Lorillard was given all ‘oriental’ brands including Turkish Trophies, Murad and Helmar.  R.J. Reynolds received no cigarette brands in the breakup instead returning to its’ roots with twist and plug tobacco.  Although Reynolds Tobacco was the smallest of the four major firms which came out of the break up of the Duke Trust, their company president, Richard J. Reynolds was a feisty competitor and set his sights on doing battle with arch-rival “Buck” Duke  and his American Tobacco Company on all fronts. Although Dick Reynolds had publicly stated that he would never use White Burley tobacco, which he considered inferior, he understood the need for compromise in the market and in 1907 he introduced a new pipe tobacco called Prince Albert which was based on that tobacco and by 1912 the brand had captured 15% of the national market.  Reynolds also swore that he would never manufacture cigarettes which he felt catered to the decedent tastes of the worst elements of society. In fact he would never allow cigarettes in his own home. However, Reynolds was capable of adapting to the changing marketplace and, following the dissolution of the trust, moved quickly to join the race to enter the expanding cigarette market. He first introduced Osman which was based on Latakia and other foreign leaf and sold at twenty for 10 cents. At the same time, he introduced Reyno made with Bright Leaf and sold a nickel. Neither of these brands did well perhaps due to lackluster promotional efforts and small advertising budgets. The next entry was Red Kamel a Turkish cigarette with a cork tip that went at ten for ten cents. This too failed and was withdrawn in 1909. However, Dick Reynolds  kept a fondness for the name and four years later when he struck upon the idea of developing a cigarette based upon a blend of Carolina Bright and highly flavored White Burley which could be made to taste like a more expensive Turkish blend, he chose the name Camel. Although there was very little Oriental leaf in the blend, the pack was adorned with pyramids, palm trees, sand and of course a camel. The words “Turkish & Domestic Blend” were accompanied by a disclaimer warning smokers “Don’t look for premiums or coupons as the cost of the tobaccos blended in Camel Cigarettes prohibits the use of them”. Camels were first introduced in Cleveland in 1913 and were an instant success. Smokers noted that they tasted like the Turkish blends but were lighter due to the presence of the Virginia leaf. Reynolds was encouraged by the reports from Cleveland and believed that the new brand had the potential to sweep the nation and gave the word to drop the plans for several other new brands and concentrate on Camels. He earmarked an unprecedented $1.3 million for sales efforts in 1914 with most of it going to Camels. The effort worked and by the end of that year new brand from RJR was one of the most popular in the country. The next year, the advertising budget grew to $1.9 million and sales continued to grow, making Camel the first true national brand sold in all 48 states. By 1917, sales continued to soar and by the end of the year, it was reported that one in three cigarettes sold in America was a Camel even with a reduced advertising budget of $700,000 that year



                                By 1928 R.J Reynolds could claim that Camels were the most popular cigarette in America

      Percival Hill who was James Buchannan Duke’s successor at American Tobacco and his son George Washington Hill, Vice President in charge of sales, both took notice of Reynolds success with Camel. They recognized that the flavored White Burley blend chosen by Reynolds along with the first real national advertising and distribution network which he set up for his Camel Cigarettes represented the future for the tobacco industry. It took them a while but by 1915, they had given Charles Penn, Vice President in charge of manufacturing, the task of developing a similar cigarette for American. Like Reynolds, who based his Camel cigarette on the Prince Albert pipe tobacco blend, Penn chose an old-line pipe tobacco from the ATC stable as his starting point. Lucky Strike had been a moderately successful pipe tobacco since 1871 and Penn set about adapting the White Burley pipe blend to cigarettes. He added more flavorings, set up new cigarette making machines and soon was ready to invite George Washington Hill over to sample his new creation. According to company legend, Hill was entranced by the aroma of the new blend which reminded him somewhat of the smell of morning toast. With a great fanfare and an expensive advertising campaign, Hill launched Lucky Strike Cigarettes nation-wide in 1916. The slogan was “It’s Toasted” and the copy read “you know how toasting improves the flavor of bread and it’s the same with tobacco exactly”. The new brand was priced at twenty for 10 cents the same as Camels and was an instant success quickly gaining a 10%  market share.   

    That market share declined slightly during 1918 partially because George Hill went off to France as a Red Cross major and later served in Washington with the Motor Transport Corps. He returned in 1919 to find that Lucky Strike had lost much of its’ early momentum with sales having slipped to 6% market share. He set about reinvigorating his brand with increased advertising and promotion.  He was helped along with the general post-war upswing in sales as millions of doughboys returned the trenches of France having adopted the quick and easy “ready-mades” as their smoke of choice. In fact, the tobacco industry and the general public had made sure that America’s fighting men had plenty of free cigarettes in their kit-bags when they marched off to war and all of this was now playing into a general swing toward the “modern smoke”.

    Liggett & Meyers had joined the race in 1912 with Chesterfield which was also based on a White Burley blend and some foreign leaf for spice. The new brand with its’ British sounding name, Turkish blend and American tobaccos at first attracted little attention.  But, when the company copied Reynolds’ Camels  campaign and promoted Chesterfield as “ A balanced blend of the finest Turkish tobaccos with the choicest of several American varieties”, sales began to take off.  By 1917, Camels, Lucky Strike and Chesterfield were dominating the cigarette market as sales of  such traditionally popular Turkish brands as Murad, Omar, Mecca, Melachrino, Fatima, and Mogul tapered off. Likewise, the old-line Virginia Bright brands made popular by Duke such as King Bee, Home Run, Sunshine and even Sweet Caporal were in decline. The next three decades would become the "race of the standard" brands as Luckies, Camels and Chesterfield battled for first place in sales.

    When American troops had marched off to war in 1917, the tobacco companies and service organizations made sure they were well supplied with free ‘smokes’ along with other small comforts such as candy bars, coffee and doughnuts and when they returned, many were confirmed cigarette smokers. This provided many thousands of new customers for the cigarette makers. The move from cigar and pipe to cigarettes was slow at first. but was helped along by a variety of different factors including lower taxes, changing social mores, improved cigarette making machinery, more widespread distribution network and concentrated advertising campaigns inspired by the success of Josh Reynolds’ Camels


                                             Liggett & Myers famous "Blow Some My Way" ad from 1926 was an early appeal to women smokers


    Among the most defining change in social mores was the move toward the acceptance of cigarette smoking by women. All three major tobacco companies were acutely aware of the changes taking place in the market during and immediately after WWI. The marketing men kept their eyes on the demographic statistics and the sales people took note of the cult of youth which was forming after the war. All were deeply interested in the female smoker, the largest untapped market in the nation. Earlier ads had hinted at the subject but usually in an indirect way as Turkish style cigarette ads pictured female models holding a pack of Moguls or Murads but none actually showed women smoking. But times were changing and men like George Washington Hill at American Tobacco set their sights on popularizing cigarette smoking among the newly liberated female population. Some of Hill’s most famous campaigns for Lucky Strike evolved from the work of one of his most trusted advertising men, Edward Bernays. It was Bernays who hired a psychoanalyst to bolster his theory that some women regarded cigarettes as symbols of freedom and then hired attractive models to smoke Luckies in public. Later, he enlisted debutantes in his ads convincing them that they were striking a blow for women’s, freedom by endorsing smoking and Lucky Strikes in particular. When Hill expressed his concerns to Bernays that women might not be attracted to the dark green Lucky Strike packaging, the ad man set out to do nothing less than make green the most fashionable color. Working with friends in the fashion industry, Bernays paid for such events as Onandaga Silk’s “Green Fashion Luncheon” which featured green menus, green beans, asparagus salad, pistachio mousse glace and crème de menthe. There was also a “Green Charity Ball” sponsored by prominent socialite, Mrs. Frank Vanderlip and paid for by American Tobacco. Amazingly, green did become “the in color” that year. Hill was pleased and Bernay’s got a raise.  Another of Hill’s ad men, named Albert Lasker helped him develop perhaps his most famous campaign in the 1920s. Lasker’s wife had told him that her doctor suggested that she have a cigarette before meals to help suppress her appetite. The ad man took the idea to Hill and the famous “Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet” campaign was launched. The ads were so successful (and controversial) that they spawned several other memorable campaigns all developed around the theme of staying trim and attractive by smoking.  Women may well have joined the ranks of smokers in equal numbers during the Jazz Age without any prompting from tobacco men like George Washington Hill but we may never know for sure.  R. Elliott, Editor


                                              1921 ad from The Scranton Times for Nationals Cigarettes made by Frishmuth Bros.


  Bibliography:  They Satisfy by Robert Sobel, Anchor Press/Doubleday 1978

                         Tobacco and Americans by Robert Helmann, 1960