State Express 555

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State Express 555
State express 555 logo.png
Product typeCigarette
OwnerBritish American Tobacco
Introduced10 March 1896; 124 years ago (1896-03-10), London
MarketsSee Markets
Previous ownersArdath Tobacco Company
TaglineSmothness Above All Else

State Express 555, simply known as 555, is a British brand of cigarette originally manufactured in the United Kingdom by the Ardath Tobacco Company. The overseas rights to the brand, excluding the U.K., were acquired by British American Tobacco (BAT) in 1925.[1] It was sold widely throughout the world.[2] Today, the brand is still very popular in Asia, especially in the Greater China area, Vietnam, and Cambodia. In the United Kingdom, they are registered and manufactured in Westminster, City of Westminster, London.



The idea for the State Express brand came from the United States in 1893. Sir Albert Levy (1864–1937), a London tobacco merchant and businessman, was visiting the United States. While in Manhattan, Levy was a passenger on the Empire State Express train, which allegedly broke land speed records as locomotive No.999, the "Queen of Speed" sped its way from New York City to London.

Old tin of State Express 555

State Express was founded in London on 10 March 1896.[3] 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.[3] 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.

A poster shows Ardarth Tobacco offices and factories in 1914

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.[4]

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.[4] It is said that Sir Albert Levy derived 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'[4] On 31 July 1895 Levy registered the trademark Ardath in Ireland.[4]

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). Ardath's brands continued to be sold in Britain; they were granted a Royal Warrant by King George VI in 1946 and again later by Queen Elizabeth II.[5] In 1961, British American Tobacco bought out Imperial Tobacco's share of Ardath, thus gaining full control of Ardath's trademarks.[3]

War times[edit]

In the World War II Ardath supplied 555 cigarettes to General Montgomery's 8th Army. Montgomery organized their distribution and sent a personal letter of appreciation.[1]

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. According to Mao Tse Tung’s personal physician, 555 was the Chinese leader’s favorite cigarette. [6]

Sport sponsorship[edit]

Rallying and Formula One[edit]

Subaru Impreza WRC with 555 visible on boot lid
Jenson Button driving for BAR at the 2005 Chinese Grand Prix. Note the special State Express 555 livery that's used instead of the traditional Lucky Strike livery

555 sponsors motorsports. 555 World Racing logos were seen on Hong Kong – Beijing Rally cars from 1985 to 1987 and Subaru World Rally Championship cars from 1993 to 2004.[7] (the actual 555 brand placement became less frequent in the 21st century, being dropped in 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.[7] For rallies where tobacco advertising was forbidden, the 555 logos were replaced by three crescent moons.

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 the 2000 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 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 countries where tobacco sponsoring was banned, the 555 logos were replaced by three crescent moons.

Other sponsorships[edit]


State Express 555 is or was sold in the following countries: Bangladesh, United States, Antigua, Barbados, Grenada, Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Cyprus, Belarus, Russia, Malaysia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Mauritius, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and New Zealand.[8][9][10]

In popular culture[edit]

The brand is cited in Salman Rushdie's post-colonial novel Midnight's Children, where it is, 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'.[11]

The brand was President Sukarno of Indonesia choice of cigarette. Also called "Bentoel 555". This is the brand that was present on the table where Rishi Kapoor sits in the song ,"kya hua tera vada."

Its also a preferred brand of bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan.

Uttam Kumar is seen pulling out a cigarette from a pack of 555 while talking on phone in 1966 Satyajit Ray classic Nayak, about 8 minutes into the movie. [12]


  1. ^ a b The stories behind the brand names - ARDATH and STATE EXPRESS, Year unknown, BAT
  2. ^ Was sold in Belgium, Brazil, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mauritius, the Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
  3. ^ a b c The State Express Story, BAT Outlook, Issue 16, 1992
  4. ^ a b c d Article on The History of STATE EXPRESS 555, written for TMOA centenary 1986
  5. ^ The State Express Story, BAT Outlook, Issue 16, 1992,
  6. ^ 555 STATE EXPRESS of London, Marketing Brand Manual, Issue 01/93
  7. ^ a b "Subaru Manufacturer Profile & Rally History". Retrieved 2008-02-25.
  8. ^ "BrandState Express 555 - Cigarettes Pedia". Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  9. ^ "State Express 555". Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  10. ^ "Brands". Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  11. ^ # Rushdie, Salman. "'Errata' or Unreliable Narration in Midnight's Children." Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991. London: Granta Books, 1992.
  12. ^ "kya hua tera wada". YouTube. 11 December 2006. Retrieved 7 January 2018.