To bring you these columns I wander through the antique stores and recently I found a small pamphlet about the 1939 World’s Fair in NYC. It was written by a writer for the Richmond, Virginia News Leader and about the Lucky Strike pavilion at that fair. In it he writes of the history of Lucky Strike tobacco in this country. Tobacco was more prominent in our nation then so much so that the time capsule they buried that year contained Camel cigarettes.

1939 NYC World’s Fair

To bring you these columns I wander through the antique stores and recently I found a small pamphlet about the 1939 World’s Fair in NYC. It was written by a writer for the Richmond, Virginia News Leader and about the Lucky Strike pavilion at that fair. In it he writes of the history of Lucky Strike tobacco in this country. Tobacco was more prominent in our nation then so much so that the time capsule they buried that year contained Camel cigarettes.

Our tobacco originated with the Carib Indians in the Caribbean islands and the Maya and Aztec Indians in Central America. It was brought to England as early as 1565 by sailors and to the royalty and upper crust in 1586 by Sir Walter Raleigh—starting a craze at court. . A story was told that the first time Raleigh’s servant saw him smoking he threw water on him thinking he was on fire. By 1660 the habit was commonplace among their population.

Jamestown

In 1607 100 members of a private venture named the Virginia Company founded the first permanent English settlement in North America on the banks of the James River. Famine, disease and conflict with local Indians killed half the colony and brought near extinction until John Rolfe married Pocahontas, the chief’s daughter. With the tribe’s help Rolfe learned how to grow tobacco [“brown gold”] on a commercial scale. In 1614 the first shipment of tobacco was sent to England from Jamestown. By the 1680’s over 25,000,000 pounds of tobacco a year were exported to Europe. The early English settlers came for quick riches from precious metals. They expected the Indians to do their farm work for them, and when the Indians refused, imported African slaves.

Wars

Initially, there were no cigarettes with most tobacco used for chewing, pipes, and cigars. In the Mexican War [1846] our soldiers became acquainted with cigars and cigarillos from Mexican soldiers. In the Crimean War [1853-6] the British allied with the Ottoman Empire which exposed British troops to Turkish tobacco used to wrap cigars

Beginning about 1860 Bull Durham and RJR sack tobacco was hand-rolled in cigarette papers and twisted on the ends to make cigarettes. [Bull Durham gave rise to terms “bull pen” in baseball and “shooting the bull” in conversation].

In 1864, the first American cigarette factory opened. It produced 20 million “ready-made” cigarettes. In 1871 Lucky Strike”, a pipe tobacco named for the 1849 gold rush,was introduced. By the Civil War [1861] soldiers on both sides were issued tobacco. In both WWI and WWII cigarettes were in soldiers’ rations, and many men came home smokers. Wars probably created as many male smokers as advertising.

In 1874 Washington Duke with his two sons builds his first tobacco factory followed a year later when R.J. Reynolds founds his factory. In 1881 James Buchanan ‘Buck’ Duke moved 125 Russian Jewish immigrants to Durham, N.C. to roll cigars. He went to NYC and joined four competing firms into a cartel named The American Tobacco Co. [ATC].

At the time, factory girls could hand roll 200 cigarettes a shift. In 1882 Duke worked with young mechanic James Bonsack to invent a machine that could produce 120,000 cigarettes in a 10-hour day. In gratitude for the help, Bonsack granted Duke a 30% discount on licenses for two of his machines, giving ATC a competitive advantage.

In 1886 Duke targeted women in ads with his Cameo brand, and in 1886 spent an unheard of $800,000 [$25 million today] on newspaper and billboard ads. Until the twenties most tobacco was used to chew, cigars, or in pipes. In 1901 consumption was 3.5 billion cigarettes and 6 billion cigars. By 1909, ATC controlled 92% of the world tobacco market causing the government to break up ATC into four firms in 1911. By then, demand was shifting to cigarettes.

In 1905 ATC purchased Lucky Strike and reintroduced it as a cigarette to compete against Camel, introduced by The Reynolds Tobacco Co. in 1913 and then the industry leader. Cigars were still king in 1914 with 24,000 cigar companies.

ATC’s problem was they could outproduce demand so they had to create demand through advertising. With half the population non-smokers, they targeted women. In 1929 women who smoked were mostly prostitutes or low class in the public’s mind so ATC hired Edward Bernays, a psychologist, to devise a strategy to entice women to smoke. It resulted in the “freedom march” of smoking debutantes /fashion models who walked down Fifth Avenue during the Easter parade dressed as Statues of Liberty and holding aloft their Lucky Strike cigarettes as “torches of freedom.” By 1930, Lucky Strike surpassed Camel as number one in market share with sales of 43.2 billion. [Price: 13 cents a pack.]

In 1942, “Lucky Strike had gone to war.” The war effort needed the titanium in its green ink and the gold in its bronze so Lucky’s package was changed to all-white with a red bull’s eye. [Women disliked green and gold colors because they clashed with their dresses.] By then, Lucky’s market share was number two and falling. It essentially died in the fifties when the cancer scare brought filtered brands to the fore.

Forty-five million people visited the 1939 fair—thousands through the Lucky Strike pavilion where they were given the “lucky Strike” book described here.