|Founder||Henry O. Wills|
|Fate||Merged to form Imperial Tobacco, became a brand which lasted until 1988|
W.D. & H.O. Wills was a British tobacco manufacturing company formed in Bristol, England. It was the first British company to mass-produce cigarettes, and one of the founding companies of Imperial Tobacco along with John Player & Sons.
The company was founded in 1786,and went by various names before 1830 when it became "W.D. & H.O. Wills". Tobacco was processed and sold under several brand names, some of which were still used by Imperial Tobacco until the second half of the 20th century. The company pioneered the use of cigarette cards within their packaging. Many of the buildings in Bristol and other cities around the United Kingdom still exist with several being converted to residential use.
The brand "Wills" was withdrawn by Imperial Tobacco in 1988 for the majority of its products.
Henry O. Wills arrived in Bristol in 1786 from Salisbury, and opened a tobacco shop on Castle Street with his partner Samuel Watkins. They named their firm Wills, Watkins & Co..When Watkins retired in 1789, the firm became Wills & Co. Next, the company was known from 1791 to 1793 as Lilly, Wills & Co, when it merged with the firm of Peter Lilly, who owned a snuff mill on the Land Yeo at Barrow Gurney. The company then was known from 1793 up until Lilly's' retirement in 1803 as Lilly and Wills.
In 1826 H.O. Wills's sons William Day Wills and Henry O. Wills II took over the company, which in 1830 became "W.D. & H.O. Wills". William Day Wills' middle name is from his mother Anne Day of Bristol. Both W.D. and H.O. Wills were non-smokers.Other members of the family entered to the business, such as Henry O. Wills III in 1846, and William Wills in 1858. When William Day Wills was killed in 1865 in a carriage accident, 2000 people attended his funeral at Arnos Vale Cemetery.
During the 1860s a new factory was built to replace the original Redcliffe Street premises, but they quickly outgrew this. The East Street factory of W.D. & H.O. Wills in Bedminster opened in 1886 with a high tea for the 900 employees in the Cigar Room.The new factory was expected to meet their needs for the remainder of the century, but within a decade it was doubled in size and early in the 1900s a further Bristol factory was created in Raleigh Road, Southville.
This growth was largely due to the success of cigarettes. Their first brand was "Bristol", made at the London factory from 1871 to 1974. Three Castles and Gold Flake followed in 1878 but the greatest success was the machine-made Woodbine ten years later. Embassy was introduced in 1914 and relaunched in 1962 with coupons. Other popular brands included Capstan and Passing Clouds. The company also made cigar brands such as Castella and Whiffs, several pipe tobacco brands and Golden Virginia hand-rolling tobacco.
Up until 1920 only women and girls were employed as cigar-makers. One clause in the women's contract stipulated:
She shall not contract Matrimony within the said Term, nor play at Card or Dice Tables, or any other unlawful Games.
In 1898 Henry Herbert Wills visited Australia which led to the establishment of W.D. & H.O. Wills (Australia) Ltd. in 1900.When Princess Elizabeth visited on 3 March 1950 she was given cigarette cards as a gift for Prince Charles.
In 1901 thirteen British tobacco companies discussed the American Tobacco Company building a factory in the UK to bypass taxes. The Imperial Tobacco Company was incorporated on 10 December 1901 with seven of the directors being members of the Wills family.Imperial remains one of the world's largest tobacco companies.
The last member of the Wills family to serve the company was Christopher, the great great grandson of H.O. Wills I. He retired as sales research manager in 1969.
The company had factories and offices not only in Bristol, but also in Swindon, Dublin, Newcastle and Glasgow. The largest cigarette factory in Europe was opened at Hartcliffe Bristol, and was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in 1974, but closed in 1990. It proved impossible to find a new use for it and it was demolished in 1999; its site is now the Imperial Park retail complex, but the associated offices became Lakeshore, residential apartments created by Urban Splash.
The facade of the large factory in Bedminster and bonded warehouses at Cumberland Basin remain prominent buildings in Bristol, although much of the existing land and buildings have been converted to other uses, such as The Tobacco Factory Theatre.
The Newcastle factory closed in 1986 and stood derelict for over a decade, before the front of the Art Deco building – which was preserved by being Grade II listed – reopened as a block of luxury apartments in 1998. (See main article: Wills Building) The factory in Glasgow has similarly been converted into offices.
In 1988 Imperial Tobacco withdrew the Wills brand in the United Kingdom (except for the popular Woodbine and Capstan Full Strength brands, which still carry the name).
The company pioneered canteens for the workers, free medical care, sports facilities and paid holidays. Wills commissioned portraits of long-serving employees, several of which are held by Bristol Museum and Art Gallery and some of which can be seen on display at the M Shed museum. In 1893 the W.D. & H.O. Wills Ltd Association Football Team was established and the company also held singing classes for the younger workers and women that year.In 1899 wives of Wills employees serving in the Boer War were granted 10 shillings per week by the factory.
Bristol Archives holds extensive records of W.D. & H.O. Wills and Imperial Tobacco (Ref. 38169) (online catalogue). In addition there are photographs of the Newcastle factory of W.D. & H.O. Wills at Tyne and Wear Archives (Ref. DX1363) (online catalogue. M Shed in Bristol holds the Wills Collection of Tobacco Antiquities, consisting of advertising, marketing and packaging samples from the company's history, photographs and artefacts relating to the history of tobacco. (online catalogue)
From the early 20th century to April 1951 "Pirate" was one of the most recognized cigarette brands in China. In Chinese it was commonly referred to as 'lao dao pai', meaning 'Old Knife Brand' in reference to the sword the pirate was carrying on the brands key visual. The brand had a short revival in China under different ownership in 1994 but was eventually discontinued in 1997.
In 1959 the company launched the short-lived Strand brand. This was accompanied by the memorable but disastrous, You're never alone with a Strand television advertisement.
In India, the Gold Flake, Classic and Wills Navy Cut range of cigarettes, manufactured by ITC , formerly the Imperial Tobacco Company of India Limited,still has W.D. & H.O. Wills printed on the cigarettes and their packaging. These lines of cigarettes have a dominant market share.
In 1887, Wills were one of the first UK tobacco companies to include advertising cards in their packs of cigarettes, but it was not until 1895 that they produced their first general interest set of cards ('Ships and Sailors'). Other Wills sets include 'Aviation' (1910), 'Lucky Charms' (1923), 'British Butterflies' (1927), 'Famous Golfers' (1930), 'Garden Flowers' (1933) and 'Air Raid Precautions' (1938).
Wills also released several sports sets, such as the cricket (1901, 1908, 1909, 1910), association football (1902, 1935, 1939), rugby union (1902, 1929) and Australian rules football (1905) series.
The factory in Hartcliffe, Bristol, was used for location filming for the UK television series Doctor Who , for the 1977 serial 'The Sun Makers'. Filming at the Wills Factory spanned 13 to 15 June 1977. In addition to the roof and tunnels, scenes were also filmed in the lift and the roof vent.
Cigarette cards are trading cards issued by tobacco manufacturers to stiffen cigarette packaging and advertise cigarette brands.
Imperial Brands plc, formerly Imperial Tobacco Group plc, is a British multinational tobacco company headquartered in Bristol, England. It is the world's fourth-largest international cigarette company measured by market share after Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, and Japan Tobacco, and the world's largest producer of fine-cut tobacco and tobacco papers. The company is also involved in logistics through its subsidiary Logista.
Bedminster is a district of Bristol, England, on the south side of the city. It is also the name of a council ward, which includes the central part of the district and some other areas.
Gold Flake is a classic Indian cigarette brand that has been on the market for over a century.
John Player & Sons, most often known simply as Player's, was a tobacco and cigarette manufacturer based in Nottingham, England. In 1901, the company merged with other companies to form The Imperial Tobacco Company to face competition from US manufacturers. The company also released several series of association football trading cards in the 1930s under the Player's brand.
The Tobacco Factory is the last remaining part of the old W. D. & H. O. Wills tobacco factory site on Raleigh Road, Southville, Bristol. It was saved from demolition by the architect and former mayor of the city George Ferguson and through his vision has become a model of urban regeneration. It is now a multi-use building which houses animation and performing arts school, loft-style apartments, a café bar, offices and a theatre.
Lambert & Butler is a former English tobacco manufacturing company, established in 1834 in Clerkenwell, Central London, that operated as a private business until 1901 when it merged to other UK manufacturers to form the Imperial Tobacco Company. Apart from tobacco products L&B also released several cigarette card sets from the 1910s to the 1930s. They consisted of various topics including motor cars, horsemanship, aviation, and association football.
Woodbine is a British brand of cigarettes, as of 2019 owned and manufactured by Imperial Tobacco. Woodbine cigarettes are named after the many woodbine flowers.
Regal is a British brand of cigarettes, currently owned and manufactured by Imperial Tobacco.
The House of Carreras was a tobacco business that was established in London in the nineteenth century by a nobleman from Spain, Don José Carreras Ferrer. It continued as an independent company until November 1958, when it merged with Rothmans of Pall Mall. In 1972 the name was used as the vehicle for the merger of various European tobacco interests to form Rothmans International.
Capstan is a British brand of unfiltered cigarettes, currently owned and manufactured by Imperial Brands. The brand dwindled in popularity when the health effects of tobacco became more widely known; few shops sell them today.
W.A. & A.C. Churchman was a British cigarette manufacturer based in Ipswich, Suffolk. The company was a subsidiary of John Player & Sons of Imperial Tobacco Co.. Churchman was notable for producing one million cigarettes a day.
Lakeshore is a development of flats in the Bishopsworth area of south Bristol, England. It is a Grade II listed building.
ITC Limited is an Indian company headquartered in Kolkata, West Bengal. ITC has a diversified presence across industries such as cigarettes, FMCG, hotels, packaging, paperboards and specialty papers and agribusiness.The company has a total of 13 businesses in 5 segments. Also there are 90 countries where ITC exports its products. Its products are available in 6 million retail outlets.
Navy Cut is an Indian brand of cigarettes, currently owned and manufactured by ITC Limited. It was one of the first filtered Indian cigarettes to be launched as Wills Filter'.'
An Australian rules football card is a type of trading card relating to Australian rules football, usually printed on cardboard, silk, or plastic. These cards feature one or more Australian rules football players. Cards are almost exclusively found in Australia as no top-level leagues are present outside the country. Prices for Australian rules football cards can be very high. This is illustrated for both vintage and modern cards such as an 1894 American Tobacco Company card featuring Essendon player Will Crebbin which sold for $10,110 in 2018 and a 2004 Select AFL Conquest Triple Brownlow Medallist signature card featuring Nathan Buckley, Adam Goodes and Mark Ricciuto which was valued at $3,000 in 2018.
Sir Frank William Wills of Berkeley Square, Bristol, England, was a member of the Wills tobacco family, who became a noted British architect and went on to serve as Lord Mayor of Bristol.
William Day Wills of 2 Portland Square, Bristol, England, was a tobacco merchant who in 1830 together with his younger brother Henry Overton Wills II took over W.D. & H.O. Wills, a company which by the late 1800s had become Britain's largest importer of tobacco and manufacturer of tobacco products.
Henry Overton Wills I was a British merchant who founded the firm of W.D. & H.O. Wills in Bristol, England, which eventually became one of the largest tobacco companies in late 19th-century Britain, and later became the largest constituent part of Imperial Tobacco. The 1966 Guinness Book of Records named the Wills family, descended form him, as containing the largest number of millionaires in the British Isles, of which 14 left estates in excess of one million pounds since 1910, totalling 55 million, of which 27 million was paid in death duties. Wills is said to have been a non-smoker, despite the fact that he is regarded as one of the founders of the British tobacco industry.
Kingsway is a cigarette brand, currently owned by conglomerated British American Tobacco, and manufactured by its subsidiary American Express of London/Ardath Tobacco Company. In Ireland the brand was manufactured by W.D. & H.O. Wills, and in Malaysia the brand is manufactured by Rothmans International.
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