Rothmans established the largest mail-order cigarette business in Britain. Rothmans later grew to become the fourth largest cigarette manufacturer in the world.
Louis Rothman (1868 – 1926) was born in Kiev, then a part of the Russian Empire. He gained experience in the tobacco trade whilst apprenticed to his uncle in Kiev, who controlled the largest cigarette manufacturer in South Russia.
Rothman emigrated to Britain at the age of 17. He worked for a cigarette manufacturer for two years before entering into business for himself. L Rothman & Co was established with a small shop on Fleet Street, London in 1890. Rothman initially hand-rolled the cigarettes himself.
Rothman became a naturalised British subject in 1896.
L Rothman & Co relocated to 5 and 5a Pall Mall from 1900.
Marcus Weinberg (1859 – 1923) was a Jewish emigre from what is now part of Poland. He controlled Weinberg & Co, one of the oldest-established cigarette manufacturers in London. Rothman and Weinberg merged their interests to form the Yenidje Tobacco Company in 1913.
During the First World War, the growing popularity of low-cost cigarettes, as well as the difficulty in procuring Turkish tobacco, convinced Rothman to pursue the mass market. Weinberg disagreed with his partner, and wanted to continue to target the upper-class market. Tensions grew, and the two men eventually refused to speak to each other. Rothman bought out Weinberg to gain full control of the venture in 1917.
Introduction of the Pall Mall cigarette and the mail-order business model
Pall Mall cigarettes became the leading Rothmans brand.* They contained a blend of South Carolina tobacco and Virginia leaf. Pall Mall cigarettes were advertised as, “less liable to stain the fingers and may be smoked constantly without affecting the most delicate throat”, due to containing less nicotine than any other brand. The cigarette was supplied to the House of Lords by 1920.
Rothmans converted to a wholesale business model in 1922. By supplying customers directly through mail-order, prices were immediately reduced by 25 to 33 percent. The cigarettes typically reached the consumer within a few days after production, which helped to preserve product freshness.
Sydney Rothman (1897 – 1995) entered into partnership with his father in 1923.
L Rothman & Co sales increased fourfold between 1922 and 1926. Rothmans supplied over 100,000 smokers by 1927.
Louis Rothman died in 1926. He was remembered as a generous and charitable man.
Conversion into a public company
L Rothman & Co became a public company with a capital of £220,000 from 1929.
Rothmans supported its mail-order supply business with extensive newspaper advertising. It was the largest mail-order cigarette manufacturer in Britain by 1932.
Over one billion Rothmans cigarettes were supplied to the British armed forces during the Second World War.
Acquisition by the Rembrandt Tobacco Group
Following the war home market sales were negligible, and the business was acquired by the Rembrandt Tobacco Group, controlled by Anton Rupert (1916 – 2006), for £750,000 in 1954.
Rupert was regarded as “one of the sharpest people in the tobacco world … an elemental force of nature, a man to be reckoned with”, according to rival tobacco executive Joseph Cullman III (1912 – 2004).
Rupert retained Sydney Rothman as chairman of Rothmans, and his technical advice was to prove invaluable.
Rupert had been the first person to introduce the king-size cigarette in his native South Africa. Rupert introduced the king-size filter-tip cigarette, 20 percent larger than the standard product, to the Rothmans range, and sales grew rapidly.
Rothmans maintained the last brougham, a four-wheeled horse-driven carriage, in London. Built in 1865, it was used to deliver tobacco to West End clubs and restaurants. Its maintenance costs ran to £3,000 a year by 1956.
A cigarette factory was established in Toronto, Canada from 1957. Rothmans was the highest-selling king-size filter cigarette in the Commonwealth.
Acquisition of Carreras
In 1958 Rembrandt gained control of Carreras, manufacturer of Craven A cigarettes, and merged the company with Rothmans. The combined company held three percent of the British tobacco market.
Sydney Rothman retired as chairman of Rothmans in 1979.
The Rothmans brougham remained in use until at least 1980.
Rothmans held 39 percent of the Australian cigarette market by 1983.
Global scale and absorption by British American Tobacco
Rothmans was the fourth largest cigarette manufacturer in the world by 1991, with two percent of the global market.
Rothmans was acquired by British American Tobacco for £5.3 billion in 1999. Rothmans was the seventh highest-selling cigarette brand in the world in 2022.
* The Rothman’s Pall Mall cigarette is not connected to the Pall Mall cigarette manufactured by R J Reynolds in the United States.