Camels were first sold in October 1913. Only 1 million were sold that first year, but this quickly grew to 425 million in 1914 and to 6.5 billion two years later. Twenty one billion were sold in 1919, and by the early 1920s, nearly half of all cigarettes sold in the U.S. were Camels.
And though other “standard brands” were soon introduced Chesterfields, Lucky Strikes and Old Golds Camels still had a 30% share of the cigarette market in the late 1940s. By its 65th anniversary in 1978, the brand had sold more than 3 trillion sticks. Camel still holds the record for the most cigarettes sold in a single year 105 billion in 1952.
The success of the brand is traceable partly to marketing genius. N.W. Ayer & Son was the agency hired to handle the launch, which began with a teaser campaign. Newspapers nationwide announced “the Camels are coming,” with no hint that the blitz was for a new brand of cigarettes. (Reynolds had not even sold cigarettes before 1912.) One ad crowed that “Tomorrow there’ll be more CAMELS in this town than in all Asia and Africa combined!”
The cigarettes came in a new kind of packaging. Camels were the first cigarette sold in that boxy “cup” we now identify as a cigarette pack, with 20 cigarettes per. Camels were also the first smoke to be sold in cartons of 200, and the first sold coast to coast. And (crucially) the first to incorporate what came to be known as “the American blend,” a juiced up concoction of flue cured and burley tobacco leaf that was both mild enough to be inhaled and sweet from sugars added to the mix.
A lot has changed since then. The machines that produced those early Camels could manage only seven or eight per second today’s machines spit out 20,000 sticks per minute, or about 330 per second. And cigarettes today are far more affordable, even with all those taxes going to governments (“the second addiction”). Cigarettes used to be a luxury smoked by dandies and the effete now they are more likely to be smoked by the mentally ill and destitute.
Some things, though, haven’t changed. Cigarettes still kill about half their long term users, despite industry bluster about filters, low tars and lights, none of which has made smoking safer. Cigarettes still contain arsenic and cyanide and radioactive polonium 210, the poison used to kill that Russian spy in London a few years back. Cigarettes cause one death for every million smoked, which means that the 4 trillion Camels consumed over the last 100 years have probably caused about 4 million deaths.
And it would be wrong to think of the cigarette business as moribund. Shareholders of the three largest makers in the U.S. all earn dividends in excess of 4%, and those holding stock in Altria (parent company of Philip Morris) earn closer to 6%.
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For many people, the pleasures that cigarettes can grant go beyond smoking. For others, cigarette smoking may simply be out of the question, but they may still be interested in the objects and artifacts produced by the tobacco industry to attract and compliment its consumers. Whether they smoke or not, buyers and collectors of cigarette products have a great variety to choose Camel products rank high with collectors of objects related to cigarette products and brands. Joe Camel, for many years, was the famous cartoon mascot for Camel cigarettes. The campaign was conceived in the late 1980s by the marketing team at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, and enjoyed wide popularity among young people. The Joe Camel campaign was voluntarily pulled by R.J. Reynolds in 1997 after repeated appeals by Congress and other public interest groups. The appeals followed allegations that the Joe Camel campaign targeted children. The new Camel campaign still features a camel, although this one does not portray any human qualities and seems to be targeted to a strictly adult audience. As with Joe Camel, the new image of a traditional looking camel is inscribed on cigarette packs as well as matches, lighters, boxes, and all kinds of smoking accessories. It is also printed on housewares, all types of clothing, and a number of other promotional products. Products featuring the image of Joe Camel or the more recent Camel logo are widespread and increasingly popular. Even though for many people Joe Camel may not be a respectable image, from the point of view of many collectors, the famous cartoon was innocent and the decision to ostracize him, unfair. Joe Camel ads may not be present in current advertising, but the sleek cartoonish smile is still readily available for those who know where to look.