February 8, 2007

RJ Reynolds

And the man behind the brand is...
Richard Reynolds

Richard Joshua Reynolds grew up in a tobacco family. His father grew tobacco and sold it in plugs from his Rock Spring Plantation in southwestern Virginia. Richard was nearsighted and read so slowly his family at first didn't think he was bright. He was schooled in Baltimore and returned to manage the family factory.

Reynolds became convinced his future in tobacco lay elsewhere. He left and settled in Winston, North Carolina in 1874 at the age of 24. Winston was a dusty town of 1400 but it did have two things to recommend it: it was in the center of the new flue-cured leaf country that made the best chewing tobacco and a newly built railroad line split the town.

Reynolds bought a tiny spec of land by the railroad tracks and built a two-story factory that couldn't hold a tennis court. He lived on the second floor of "The Little Red Factory" and turned out 150,000 pounds of tobacco the first year in the plant down below.

In 1890 the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company was incorporated. Reynolds, a 6'2" bachelor with intense dark hair and eyes, was a leading citizen of Winston. He built roads, helped establish a bank and served as a city official. He had planned to retire when he made $100,000.

Now he set out to build what he called "THE tobacco factory of the South." Reynolds was already a constant innovator in the tobacco industry. He used saccharin to sweeten the leaf (although he called it "a naturally sweet leaf grown in Winston"), aged his leaf before manufacture rather than in the plug and invested heavily in an aggressive sales force and new promotion techniques. Reynolds distributed advertising calendars with pretty girls - and his tobacco products.

By 1900 Reynolds had 25% of the nation's plug market but was looking for a new product. He blended a tobacco using Kentucky burley and packaged it in 5¢ cloths and 2-ounce tins. RJ Reynolds' nephew Richard named the new tobacco after the Prince of Wales since Americans held English royalty in high esteem. Prince Albert became wildly popular. Production in the first four years increased from 250,000 pounds to 14,000,000 pounds.

Reynolds began national advertising in 1910 touting Prince Albert as the "Nation's Joy Smoke." Sales of pipes tripled. Reynolds now made up his mind to blend a packaged cigarette the public also could not resist. In those days most cigarette smokers rolled their own and Reynolds was not going to leave anything to chance in his product launch.

He introduced four brands simultaneously to test public reaction. All names were chosen to combine simplicity and pictorial possibilities: Reyno, Red Kamel, Osman, and Camel. The first Camel picture showed a pathetic one-humped beast with a drooping neck. Was it even a camel?

Reynolds executives weren't sure. They went to a circus and lined up two camels to be photographed, a one-humped dromedary and a two-humped animal. Old Joe, the dromedary was most uncooperative. The trainer smacked him on the snout and Old Joe raised his tail, threw back his ears, and closed his eyes as the photographer snapped his shot. Old Joe became the most famous camel in the world.

The impact of Camel was astounding. Quickly 1/2 of all cigarettes smoked in the United States were Camels. RJ Reynolds died in 1918 at the age of 68 as his plants were turning out 18 billion Camels a year.

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