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
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
That market share declined slightly during 1918 partially because George Hill went off to
Liggett & Meyers had joined the race in 1912 with
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