Recently, I did a post on the R. J. Reynolds tobacco company and Camel® cigarettes. One of my friends, who smoked Philip Morris for years, asked what I knew of the Philip Morris company beyond the advertising of “Call for Philip Morris!”
According to Philip Morris International, the history of what is now a global company can be traced back to Mr. Philip Morris’s 1847 opening of a single shop on London’s Bond Street, selling tobacco and ready-made cigarettes. It was called “Philip Morris, Esq., Tobacconist and Importer of Fine Seegars.”
Morris was previously a London merchant with an aristocratic clientele. He took advantage of the demand for “Russian mode” cigarettes initiated by British soldiers returning from the Crimean War to Victorian London. Morris hired on a group of expert “rollers” imported from Russia, Turkey, and Egypt. These workers turned out expensive brands: Philip Morris Cambridge, Oxford Blues, and Ovals, and they were snapped up the populace. These workers were some of the best in London, and they could turn out some 3000 cigarettes in a typical 10-hours’ day.
The popularity of Philip Morris brand cigarettes grew, and demand spread to every outpost of Empire. They eventually made their way to the American market. In 1872, Gustav Eckmeyer became the exclusive importer of the cigarettes in New York. In 1902, Eckmeyer helped to organize investors and the manufacturing of cigarettes in America under the brand of New York Philip Morris Corporation. Marlboro® was one of its earliest brands.
On Mr. Morris’s death, the business was taken over by his wife Margaret and his brother Leopold. In 1881 the Company went public, Leopold Morris joining Joseph Grunebaum to establish Philip Morris & Company and Grunebaum, Ltd. This partnership was dissolved in 1885 and the Company became known as Philip Morris & Co., Ltd.
The Company finally left the founding family’s control in 1894, when it was taken over by William Curtis Thomson and his family. Under Thomson, the Company was appointed tobacconist to King Edward VII and, in 1902, was incorporated in New York, by Gustav Eckmeyer. Ownership was split 50-50 between the British parent and American partners. Eckmeyer had been sole agent for Philip Morris in the U.S. since 1872, importing and selling English-made cigarettes.
American stockholders bought the firm in 1919, and the image created by Philip Morris in that first shop on Bond Street was a major sale point. The company grew in the competitive tobacco industry.
1919 was a crucial year for the Company. It saw the introduction of the Philip Morris coronet logo, the acquisition of the Philip Morris Company in the U.S. by a new firm owned by American shareholders, and its incorporation in Virginia under the name of Philip Morris & Co., Ltd., Inc. By the end of the next decade, the Company had begun to manufacture cigarettes in its factory in Richmond, Virginia; in 1924, what was to become its most famous brand, Marlboro, was introduced. By the mid-1950s the Company had become a part of American culture, and soon after it launched Philip Morris International (PMI) to manufacture and market its products around the world.
But what of the signature “Call for Philip Morris!”? How did it come about? John Roventini was a 22-year-old dwarf working as a bell hop at the New Yorker Hotel at the time. Milton Biow and Kenneth Goode were two advertising me. The three got together, and the result was magic. Biow and Goode presented Roventini a card upon which was printed “Call for Philip Morris.” Roventini, who was known for his charming disposition, took up the task. He strode through the New Yorker’s crowded lobby, singing out the now famous phrase, “Call for Philip Mar-a-iss! Call for Philip Mar-a-iss!”
Roventini’s voice and unique inflections caught the attention of everyone in the lobby. Biow and Goode had not only created an engaging slogan, but had found their pitch man.
Campbell, Hannah. Why Did They Name It? Fleet Press, ©1964, pages 114-115.
Cox, Jim (23 May 2008). Sold on Radio: Advertisers in the Golden Age of Broadcasting. McFarland. p. 205.