The Global Cigarette: Origins and Evolution of British American Tobacco, 1880-1945

The Global Cigarette: Origins and Evolution of British American Tobacco, 1880-1945

The Global Cigarette: Origins and Evolution of British American Tobacco, 1880-1945

The Global Cigarette: Origins and Evolution of British American Tobacco, 1880-1945


During the 1880s, the tobacco manufacturing industries of Britain and America were revolutionized by the introduction of mechanized cigarette production. The development of this novel, image-laden product constituted a triumph for the methods of mass production and mass distribution in this most traditional of consumer goods industries. The Global Cigarette charts the way in which these innovations in manufacturing and marketing methods led to the formation in 1902 of the British American Tobacco Co. as an Anglo-American multinational joint venture designed to promote cigarettes in international markets. Based on archive materials from a wide variety of sources, including the company's own internal records, this book provides the first authoritative account of BAT's evolution and growth up until the Second World War. In particular, The Global Cigarette shows the way in which the company developed a vast array of international operating subsidiaries, explores how it managed these enterprises in different political and cultural contexts- notably in China and India and analyses the way in which the company, as a mature multinational enterprise, coped with the severe international economic dislocations of the 1930s. In the era of globalization, this account of the operational and organizational arrangements of a prefigurative 'global' company will shed light on current debates on alliances, joint ventures, and international business.


In 1934, when I was working as a solicitor in the City of London, I was approached by the British–American Tobacco Company to fill the vacant position of Company solicitor in Shanghai. Already tempted by the opportunity of working in China, Sir Hugo Cunliffe-Owen’s suggestion at the subsequent interview that I should be better placed as ‘a small frog in a big pond’ helped to persuade me to chance my arm with BAT.

Circumstances led my time in China to be rather brief, but not my association with BAT. Six months after my arrival in Shanghai I was transferred back to the company’s London headquarters as deputy head of its legal department. Although disappointed not to remain longer in China, the unexpected promotion was welcome, of course, especially as it gave me the chance to work closely with Sir Hugo as secretary of his Chairman’s Committee which met daily and at which all important decisions were made.

As vice-chairman of BAT after the war I travelled extensively around the company’s many subsidiaries, gaining insights and experience that proved to be of immense benefit during my period as chairman from 1953 to 1966. In a career with BAT spanning nearly 40 years, therefore, I accumulated a considerable store of knowledge relating to the company and its history.

In the light of this I was most interested to read the accounts of BAT’s development that Howard Cox had written during his earlier research and was impressed by the depth and accuracy of the papers he had published. Accordingly, I did my best to encourage the company to support the work he was undertaking for the present book and have been most gratified by the help he has received from BAT’s Director of Public Affairs, Michael Prideaux, and his staff.

Over the past few years I have engaged in a number of discussions with Howard at BAT’s headquarters in London as the draft of this book has taken shape. The depth and thoroughness of his research means that now, as the company approaches its centenary, we finally have an accurate account of this fascinating and in many respects unique company from its foundation up until the Second World War.

Sir Duncan Oppenheim

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