Category Archives: Tobacco

Whiff of success: Henri Wintermans

Henri Wintermans is the largest cigar brand in the world.

Sjaak and Henri Wintermans (1886 – 1975), two brothers, established a cigar manufacturing business in Duizel in the Netherlands in 1904. They traded as A Wintermans & Sons, in honour of their father.

Sjaak concentrated on sales and Henri concentrated on buying and blending tobacco.

A Wintermans & Sons captured a substantial proportion of the Dutch market but Henri amicably left the partnership to establish his own cigar manufacturing business in 1934.

Henri relocated to the neighbouring town of Eersel, and his son Adriaan entered the business. Adriaan Wintermans took over management from 1945 onwards.

Wintermans identified the post-war Dutch cigar market as over-saturated, and decided to look to export sales to drive his business forward. Before long Britain was the company’s largest market for sales.

The Cafe Creme cigarillo was launched in France in the early 1960s. Henri Wintermans was by far the most popular Dutch cigar brand in the United Kingdom by 1965.

Adriaan Wintermans had a clear vision for the European cigar market, but he lacked the financial capital to realise his ambition. He felt that the company could best realise its potential as part of a larger concern. He sold Henri Wintermans to British American Tobacco for just under £2 million in 1966. BAT was the largest manufacturer of tobacco products in the world.

Adriaan Wintermans was appointed head of BAT’s European cigar business.

Over 500 million Henri Wintermans cigars were produced in 1971.

Just two percent of Henri Wintermans sales were in the Netherlands by 1972. Over 62 percent of sales were to the United Kingdom, and Henri Wintermans had around 15 percent of the UK cigar market.

Henri Wintermans increased sales by over 500 percent between 1966 and 1972. Production capacity was increased by 75 percent in 1972 to cope with rising demand.

Henri Wintermans was the leading cigar exporter in the world by 1977. It was the highest selling imported cigar brand in Britain by 1978.

Wintermans Cafe Creme was number two in the British miniature cigar market by 1983.

Broadsheet festive “banter”. A 1986 Henri Wintermans advertisement in the Daily Telegraph

Over 600 million Henri Winterman cigars were sold in 1990.

Henri Wintermans was sold to the Scandinavian Tobacco Group in 1996 for £55 million.

Henri Wintermans products are still manufactured in Eersel. The vast majority of sales are in Europe.

Close but no cigar: Cope Brothers

Cope Brothers was the second largest tobacco manufacturer in Britain, and pioneered the employment of women in the sector.

Establishment and the Victorian era
George Cope (1823 – 1888) and Thomas Cope (1827 – 1884) began to sell cigars, snuff and tobacco from 63 Paradise Street, Liverpool in 1848. Trading as Cope Brothers, the firm was undertaking its own manufacturing from premises on Lord Nelson Street by 1853.

George Cope managed the manufacturing arm of the firm, while Thomas Cope was responsible for the business as a whole.

Cope Brothers was one of the first tobacco manufacturers in Britain to employ a female workforce. Cope Brothers began to employ women following a factory strike in 1858. Female workers proved capable, so the policy was continued until the factory employed around 700 women and girls by 1871, out of a total of 774 employees.

Cope’s Christmas entertainment at St George’s Hall in 1864. Taken from the Illustrated London News.

Cope Brothers operated the largest tobacco factory in Britain by 1870. The factory was spacious and well-ventilated. Charles Dickens and Emily Faithfull were given tours and reported favourably. Shifts were of six to eight hours in duration. The girls were generally the daughters of shopkeepers, warehousemen and clerks. Cope Brothers employed 1,400 women and girls by 1879. The factory occupied almost the entirety of one side of Lord Nelson Street by 1882.

Thomas Cope died in 1884, and left an estate valued at £199,000.

Cope Brothers was converted into a private limited liability company with a capital of £350,000 in 1885.

George Cope died in 1888. He was succeeded as managing director by his nephew, Thomas Henry Cope (1867 – 1913).

Cope’s Tobacco Works in 1889

The regular workforce at the Liverpool factory totalled 1,500 people by 1892, many of them women and girls. With four percent of the British tobacco market, Cope Brothers was second only to Wills of Bristol.

Increased competition
The American Tobacco Company acquired Ogdens, a Liverpool tobacco manufacturer, in 1901. ATC ran Ogdens at a massive loss in order to increase its market share. Although the acquisition was to impact the entire British tobacco industry, Cope Brothers suffered more that most, perhaps due to its proximity to its rival, and its decision not to join Imperial Tobacco, formed as a defensive merger of major British tobacco companies.

John Wilcox, chairman of Cope Brothers, decried “the deliberate and organised effort on the part of American capitalists to destroy a British industry and create a selfish monopoly for themselves”. On the other hand, the Daily Mail criticised Cope Brothers as “slow, easy-going [and] old-fashioned”, with “out-of-date methods”.

In a defensive move, Cope Brothers acquired Richard Lloyd, tobacco manufacturers best known for the Old Holborn brand, in 1902.

Robinson & Barnsdale Ltd, tobacco manufacturers of Nottingham, was acquired in 1905.

Escudo Navy De Luxe pipe tobacco was introduced by Cope Brothers in 1912.

H C Lloyd & Son Ltd of Exeter was acquired in 1924.

Strike issues and acquisition
Around 460 Cope Brothers employees went on strike in 1950 in protest against the hiring of non-unionised labour. The strike lasted for nearly three months, and resulted in the dismissal of nearly 200 striking workers.

Cope Brothers was acquired by Gallaher in 1952, in an exchange of shares. The Liverpool factory appears to have been closed shortly afterwards. At the time, purchase of American tobacco was limited by quotas from the Government, and Gallaher acquired Cope Brothers to increase its quota allowance. Gallaher was also attracted by the strength of the Old Holborn brand.

Cope Brothers remained a major Gallaher subsidiary as late as 1969.

Escudo Navy De Luxe pipe tobacco and Old Holborn are still sold as of 2017.

John Hodge Tobacco Co

The John Hodge Tobacco Company was the largest exporter of dark leaf tobacco from the United States.

John Henderson Hodge (1852 – 1935) was born in Glasgow in 1852 to James Hodge and Catherine (nee Henderson). His father was a partner in J&T Hodge, which operated a tobacco factory employing four men and 18 boys in 1861.

John H Hodge emigrated to the United States in 1876 and established the John Hodge Tobacco Company at Madisonville, Kentucky. He was joined by his brother, Thomas Hodge (born 1859) in 1880.

Hodge married a Kentuckian, Kitty G Hodge (born 1856). His sons included James (born 1881), William R (born 1886) and John H (born 1889).

The Hodge tobacco factory at Henderson, Kentucky was struck by fire in 1895.

James Hodge retired from J & T Hodge, tobacco and cigarette manufacturers of St Ninian Street, Glasgow, in 1902, leaving William Hodge as the sole partner. James R Hodge was a witness to the transaction.

The John Hodge Tobacco Co acquired three million pounds of tobacco for about $175,000 in a single transaction in 1913.

The Hodge Tobacco Co, wholesaler and exporter of Henderson and Hopkins counties, Kentucky, employed 554 people in 1926.

John Henderson Hodge died in 1935.

James Hodge died in 1944.

Hodge Tobacco Co employed 200 workers during peak season in 1965, and had annual sales of over $1.5 million.

The business was operated by Thomas Hodge (1925 – 2011), the son of William Hodge, until its dissolution in 1972.

Up in smoke: a history of Gallaher

Gallaher was one of the largest tobacco companies in the world.

Thomas Gallaher (1840 – 1927) was the son of Thomas Gallaher, a prosperous Protestant miller who owned the Templemoyle Grain Mills in Eglinton, a village in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

The son served an apprenticeship in the early 1850s with Robert Bond, a general merchant on Shipquay Street, Londonderry.

Gallaher opened a tobacconist business at 7 Sackville Street, Londonderry in 1857, using £200 he borrowed from his parents. He made and sold Irish roll pipe tobacco. The expanding business was relocated to Belfast in 1863.

A five storey factory employing 600 people was built at York Road, Belfast in 1881.

A factory was opened at 60 Holborn Viaduct in London in 1888, followed by a Clerkenwell factory a year later.

The firm was converted into a limited liability company with a capital of £1 million, in 1896.

A new £100,000 factory across seven acres was opened in Belfast in 1897. It was probably the largest tobacco manufacturing plant in the world.

A machine-made cigarette brand, Park Drive, was introduced from 1902.

Gallaher’s decision not to join the great tobacco combines of the age; Imperial Tobacco and the American Tobacco Company, made his the largest independent tobacco company in the world by 1903.

Gallaher bought his raw materials direct, which allowed him to keep costs low by cutting out the middleman. He was the largest independent purchaser of American tobacco in the world by 1906. He bought only the highest grade of the crop.

The atmosphere at the Belfast factory was described as familial. Midday meals were served at cost-price. Gallaher was the first man in Belfast to reduce working hours from 57 to 47 a week. The company employed 3,000 people by 1907.

Gallaher acquired the six acre Great Brunswick Street premises of the Dublin City Distillery for £20,000 in 1908. There, he built a large tobacco factory.

At York Street, Belfast, Gallaher established what was, by 1914, one of the largest tobacco factories in the world. The company also owned extensive plantations in Virginia.


Gallaher continued to work at his desk every day until a few months before he died in 1927. He was remembered as a courteous, kindly man, a generous employer, and an extremely talented businessman. His plain ways endeared him to people. He left an estate valued at £503,954.

The company was principally inherited by his nephew, John Gallaher Michaels (died 1949). Michaels had worked for his uncle for many years, and had been manger of the American operations.

The Constructive Finance & Investment Co, led by Edward de Stein (1887 – 1965), acquired the entire share capital of Gallaher for several million pounds in 1929, and offered shares to the public.

Why Michaels sold Gallaher remains unclear, but he, his uncle and his brother all lacked heirs, so perhaps he simply wished to retire and pass on management of the company to others.

A new factory was established at East Wall, Dublin for £250,000 in 1929. The East Wall factory was closed with the loss of 400 jobs, following the introduction of a tariff on firms not majority-owned by Irish residents, in 1932.

Imperial Tobacco acquired 51 percent of Gallaher in 1932, although management retained its independence.

Gallaher acquired Peter Jackson in 1934. The firm manufactured Du Maurier cigarettes, which was the first popular filter-tip brand in Britain.

E Robinson & Son, manufacturers of Senior Service cigarettes, was acquired in 1937. The brand was very successful in the Manchester area, but Robinson’s had lacked the capital to take the brand nationwide.

J Freeman & Son, cigar manufacturers of Cardiff, was acquired in 1947.

Gallaher acquired Cope Brothers of Liverpool, owners of the Old Holborn brand, in 1952.

Benson & Hedges Ltd was acquired, mainly for the prestigious brand name, in 1955.

Gallaher grew rapidly in the 1950s mostly due to expanding sales of Senior Service, as well as Park Drive cigarettes.

Gallaher acquired J Wix & Sons Ltd, the fast-growing manufacturer of Kensitas cigarettes, from the American Tobacco Company in 1961.

The Imperial Tobacco stake in Gallaher had been diluted to 37 percent by 1961.

Gallaher claimed 37 percent of the British cigarette market by 1962.

A large factory was established at Airton Road, Dublin in 1963.

Silk Cut was launched in 1964 as a low tar brand.

Company president Sir Edward de Stein died in 1965.

Gallaher employed 15,000 people in 1965, and had an authorised capital of £45 million in 1968. The company held 27 percent of the British tobacco market in 1968.

Benson & Hedges was the leading king-size cigarette brand in Britain by 1981.

The Belfast factory was closed in 1988. 700 jobs were lost, and production was relocated to Ballymena in County Antrim.

A cigar factory in Port Talbot, Wales, was closed in 1994 with the loss of 370 jobs.

The Manchester cigarette factory was closed in 2000-1. Nearly 1,000 jobs were lost. Production was transferred to Ballymena, were 300 extra jobs were created.

Japan Tobacco acquired Gallaher, then the fifth largest tobacco company in the world, for £7.5 billion in cash in 2007.

Ballymena, the last remaining tobacco factory in the UK, was closed in 2017, with production relocated to Eastern Europe. 860 jobs were lost.

Japan Tobacco holds 40 percent of the British tobacco market as of 2018.

A brief history of Imperial Tobacco

Imperial Tobacco dominated the British tobacco trade throughout the twentieth century.

Wills of Bristol employed about 1,000 workers by 1889. The business was best known for the Woodbine brand. Informed by their Congregationalist principles, the Wills family had, by 1895, introduced financing for a staff canteen, a convalescent home, a sanatorium, a resident nurse and doctor, paid holidays and a number of recreational clubs.

Imperial Tobacco was formed in 1901 by the combination of thirteen leading British tobacco companies. Wills controlled the combine with just over half of the equity, followed by Lambert & Butler of London, Mitchell of Glasgow and John Player of Nottingham.

It was a defensive merger following the acquisition of Ogden of Liverpool, one of Britain’s leading cigarette manufacturers, by the highly capitalised American Tobacco Company.

Salmon & Gluckstein, a retail tobacconist with 184 branches, was acquired in 1902, largely to prevent its acquisition by American Tobacco.

American Tobacco sold Ogden to Imperial in 1902, and both companies agreed to avoid its rivals’ domestic market. The global market was to be catered for by a new company called British American Tobacco, with a two third stake held by American Tobacco and one third held by Imperial.

Imperial Tobacco estimated it had “rather over 50 percent” of the British tobacco market by 1904.

The Wills Embassy brand was launched in 1914.

By 1920 Imperial Tobacco had 72.5 percent of the British tobacco market, including 91 percent of all cigarette sales.

The firms in the combine retained their own brands and salesmen, but pricing and accounting were organised centrally.

By the late 1920s Imperial Tobacco had seen its virtual monopoly on cigarettes corroded by the re-emergence of competitors such as Carreras, Gallaher and Godfrey Phillips.

John Player overtook Wills to become the largest single Imperial Tobacco subsidiary in the 1940s.

Imperial Tobacco held 78.8 percent of the British tobacco market in 1955.

Imperial held 66 percent of the British tobacco market in 1968, followed by Gallaher (Benson & Hedges) with 29 percent. Carreras (Rothmans, Dunhill) was third in the market with 7 percent share. Will’s Embassy was the highest selling cigarette brand.