National Cigarette & Tobacco Company’s flagship
brand called Admiral was first marketed in 1883.
Ad copy proudly proclaimed them to be “Not Made By A Trust”
By 1890, there were only a few cigarette firms of any size in the country which had not been absorbed by Buck Duke’s American
Tobacco Company Trust. Most notable among these independents was The National Cigarette and Tobacco Co. of New York City. This firm produced such brands as: Admiral, Royal Sweets, Opera Lights, Yellow Kid and High Admiral. The company was highly innovative in the promotion of their brands. In the early 1890s, a huge electric sign was installed high above the corner of 23rd St and Broadway in the heart of New York City advertising their Admiral and Opera Lights Cigarettes. The brightly lit bulbs were, at the time, a new invention from the lab of the renowned Thomas Edison and the sign was an instant sensation for all who saw it each night. It may also have been a thorn in the side of James ”Buck" Duke who had long resented the upstart competitor from New York.
Electric sign installed by The National Cigarette & Tobacco Company
high over Broadway in the 1890s to advertise their Admiral and Opera
Lights Cigarettes. (From The Great Seduction by Gerard Petrone, MD)
National also produced several sets of insert cards on such diverse topics as “Art Subjects”, “Famous Actresses”, “National Types” and “Views” (which included a picture of the Chicago Exposition building where the firm displayed their wares at the 1893 World’s Fair). In addition, the company issued a set of 154 celluloid buttons dedicated to the famous Yellow Kid cartoon character which became so popular that they eventually secured the rights to manufacture a cigarette under the Yellow Kid name. There were several other publicity stunts which the company employed such as having dozens of pretty young girls riding bikes around the city with “Smoke Admiral Cigarettes” banners adorning their costumes.
All of these merchandising efforts paid off and sales of their brands were on the rise during the late 1880s and early 1890s. However, Duke was not about to let this upstart company prosper for long. Legal documents from the era detail a sustained effort by American Tobacco to put pressure on tobacco jobbers to drop National’s brands or face the loss of commissions on the widely popular ATC brands. Buried deep in the contracts which the jobbers were required to sign was a clause which in effect said that if they did not act in “the best interests” of American Tobacco Co., then the agreement was nullified and the ability to distribute ATC’s brands taken away. The threat was usually enough to drive away Duke’s competitors. However, National was not ready to give up the fight and sell out to Duke. Eventually, National did wind up being absorbed by Duke and the story of how that came about involves quite a bit of back- room maneuvering and the formation of another firm called Union Tobacco Company.
The Union Tobacco Company
High Admiral box issued during the
Union Tobacco successor days.