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%.
North carolina history project : camel cigarettes
During the late 1800s, North Carolina dominated the national tobacco market, and in 1913 R. J. Reynolds Company (RJR) introduced a product that revolutionized tobacco advertising and processing Camel cigarettes.
The Tar Heel State experienced a tobacco boom in the 1870s. RJR opened a plant in Winston and Washington Duke started operations in Durham under the name of The American Tobacco Company (ATC). Other companies existed, too Green and Blackwell produced Bull Durham. Other North Carolina companies were P. Lorillard and Liggett and Myers. These two cooperated with RJR and ATC to form an American Tobacco Trust the company s leaders agreed to specialize in certain products and refused to compete with each other in particular specialty cigarettes. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, ruled in 1912 that the arrangement was illegal.
In the wake of that decision, RJR introduced, with innovative advertising, a revolutionary product Camel cigarettes. In 1913, Camel cigarettes were announced in papers, and many initially considered “The Camels are coming!” slogan as a joke. They soon learned otherwise. Circus camels were driven into towns and company representatives distributed free cigarettes. The camel was named “Old Joe,” and he became the face of the new tobacco blend.
Advertising catapulted the cigarette to national popularity, to be sure however, its pleasant taste ensured that it remained popular. Sometimes the best advertising is a friend s endorsement. Many North Carolinians started recommending the cigarette and its popularity started growing almost immediately after its introduction to the market. Customers remarked about the good taste of the burley, and Camel sales soon outperformed the other three tobacco companies Turkish blends.
Camel cigarettes competed with other popular Turkish blends. Fatima, a popular one produced by Liggett and Myers, was the biggest competitor. But Lorillard had the Zubelda, and ATC had the Omar brand. While competitors emphasized the Turkish aspect of the tobacco blend, Camel packages stated “Turkish and Domestic Blend.”
Affordability also launched Camel cigarettes into the national market. RJR sold its product for a nickel less (10 cents) than its competitors counterpart products.
Necessity bred invention among RJR s competitors. Calling on experts within Liggett and Myers, Nannie Tilley called on Charley Penn to combine his knowledge of burley and the tobacco making process to create a rival product. Penn used a method that had previously been used strictly for plug tobacco. While Penn worked on creating a flavorful cigarette, others worked on designing an appealing carton. They abandoned ornate designs and chose to keep things simple a circle was the focal point of the cigarette package. The end product was Lucky Strike.
Camel and RJR had revolutionized the cigarette industry in taste and in advertising. According to historian Nannie Tilley in The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, “Camel became the agent for producing the modern cigarette industry.” In 1913, George Washington Hill even remarked about the brand s revolutionary influence, and Tobacco magazine editors wrote that the brand had become “standard.” A year after Camel s introduction, packers put in overtime to meet national demand. RJR produced so many Camel cigarettes that Winston Salem was nicknamed by many as “Camel City.”
As its popularity soared, Camel remained at the forefront of advertising by being a sponsor in NASCAR, Formula One, and Superbike racing series. Although tobacco regulations have increased in the United States and in North Carolina, Camel is still a top seller (top five) and is sold in over ninety countries.