State Express 555
State Express 555, simply known as 555, is a brand of cigarette originally manufactured in the United Kingdom by the Ardath Tobacco Company. The overseas rights to the brand, excluding the United Kingdom, were acquired by British American Tobacco (B.A.T.) in 1925. It was sold widely throughout the world, including Belgium, Brazil, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mauritius, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Today, the brand is still very popular in Asia, especially in the Greater China area (including mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan), Vietnam, and Cambodia. Some resources suggest it is the most well-known and popular foreign brand in China.
Origin of the Name
The idea for the STATE EXPRESS brand came from the U.S.in 1893. Sir Albert Levy, a London tobacco merchant, was visiting the United States. While in New York State, Levy was a passenger on the Empire State Express train, which broke land speed records as locomotive No.999, the “Queen of Speed” sped its way from New York City to Buffalo, at a peak of 112 .5 miles per hour (180 km/h). It was the first train to break the 100 m.p.h. (160 km/h) mark.
Levy liked the name so much that he registered the words STATE EXPRESS on his return to Britain. The word trademark was first registered in Ireland on 10 March 1896. The numerals (a series of triple numbers from 111 to 999) forming the other part of the trademark were registered under UK Registration No. 290529 on 18 February 1907. All of these numbers were used as different brands, each with a different blend or mix of tobacco: 444 was made with Macedonian leaf, and 777 was made with Turkish tobacco, for example. The numeric ranges for STATE EXPRESS cigarettes were not the only available variants in the market at that time. Other mark names included MY DARLING and ASTORIAS, available in export catalogues. In addition to the cigarette business, cigars and tobaccos were available in the STATE EXPRESS range. But by far the most successful of these was the Virginia tobacco blend of STATE EXPRESS 555, introduced in 1896. It went on to become Ardath’s flagship brand.
Sir Albert Levy
Levy, Sir Albert (1864 – 1937), born in England in 1864.
He became a successful tobacco trader, cigarette manufacturer and exporter. After a successful business career as founder, chairman, and managing director of the Ardath Tobacco Co., he retired in 1931 to devote himself to philanthropy and he was knighted in 1929.
Ardath Tobacco Company
The brand was originally owned by Ardath Tobacco Company. The company was created in the late 19th century in London, England, and was originally called Albert Levy & Thomas.
The Ardath Tobacco Company Limited was originally located at 62 Leadenhall Street in London and called La Casa de Habana (The House of Havana) until 1895 when it changed its name to the present day version. It is said that Sir Albert Levy found his inspiration for the name ARDATH from a book of the same name written by Marie Corelli. The title of the book is derived from numerous references in the Books of Esdras (in the Apocrypha) to the "Field of Ardath". For example, in the fourth book, chapter IX, verse XXVI reads:
'So I went my way into the field which is called Ardath, like as He commanded me, and there I sat among the flowers and did eat of the herbs of the field and the meat of the same satisfied me'
On 31 July 1895 Sir Levy registered the trademark ARDATH in the Republic of Ireland.
The name of the company was changed in 1901 to the Ardath Tobacco Company, and was split in 1925 when it was sold; British American Tobacco acquired the overseas rights of Ardath, while the Imperial Tobacco Group retained the rights of sale within the United Kingdom and Ireland. The State Express brand proved to be a boon for B.A.T., where it was a huge success in China until the rise of communism there (though it has since been re-introduced). In the United Kingdom, Ardath's brands also endured, to the point where they were granted a Royal Warrant by King George VI in 1946 and again later by H.M Queen Elizabeth II. In 1961, British American Tobacco bought out Imperial Tobacco's share of Ardath, thus gaining full control of Ardath's trademarks.
555 in World War II
555 in China
In the 1920s and 1930s, BAT held a dominant position in the Chinese market with STATE EXPRESS 555 playing a key role. Sales of the brand exceeded 5 billion units in 1937.
World Rally Championship and Formula One
555 is perhaps best known for its sponsorship of motorsports.
555 World Racing logos were seen on Subaru World Rally Championship cars from 1993 to 2004. (the actual 555 brand placement became less frequent into the 2000s (decade), until it was dropped altogether for 2005). Subaru continued to use 555's blue and yellow colour scheme as its WRC livery until its withdrawal, but with the manufacturer's own logos in place of the 555 brand.
British American Racing in 1999 originally wanted to brand Ricardo Zonta's car in the blue & yellow livery of 555 World Racing, whilst branding Jacques Villeneuve's car with Lucky Strike colours. However, the move was blocked by the FIA, and they were forced to run two similar liveries. They opted to have the Lucky Strike brand on the left of the car and 555 World Racing on the right, with a zip going along the middle of the nose. It was highly unpopular, and so for 2000 Formula One Season, they chose to just display mostly Lucky Strike logos, with small 555 World Racing logos on the side and nose. Some years between 2000 and 2006 (After Honda had bought out BAR, and were under pressure to drop tobacco sponsorship under new EU legislation), they prominently displayed the 555 World Racing brand at the Chinese and Japanese Grands Prix, where the 555 brand is better known. However, from 2007 until their withdrawal at the end of 2008, Honda adopted a livery with no sponsorship logos at all, but a livery depicted Earth to raise environmental awareness.
In 1980, 555 sponsored 1980 Summer Olympics.
In 1979 and 1982, 555 sponsored Badminton.
In popular culture
The brand is cited in Salman Rushdie's post-colonial novel Midnight's Children, where it is, however, mis-attributed to the former British importer and manufacturer W.D. & H.O. Wills: Rushdie later explains this as symptomatic of an 'unreliable narrative' device in his essay on the book's 'errata'.
- The stories behind the brand names - ARDATH and STATE EXPRESS, Year unknown, BAT
- The State Express Story, BAT Outlook, Issue 16, 1992
- Article on The History of STATE EXPRESS 555, written for TMOA centenary 1986
- The State Express Story, BAT Outlook, Issue 16, 1992,
- 555 STATE EXPRESS of London, Marketing Brand Manual, Issue 01/93
- "Subaru Manufacturer Profile & Rally History". Rallye-Info.com. Retrieved 2008-02-25.
- # Rushdie, Salman. "'Errata' or Unreliable Narration in Midnight's Children." Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991. London: Granta Books, 1992.