Our unique heritage is formed from the histories of the diverse businesses that came to together to form Imperial. What unites them all is their track record of innovation and challenging for consumers.



The history of our challenger brands 

Our unique heritage is formed from the histories of the diverse businesses that came to together to form Imperial. What unites them all is their track record of innovation and challenging for consumers.

1636 – The first tobacco company

In Spain, Tabacalera is formed under the name Estanco del Tabaco en España, making it the oldest tobacco company in the world.

1786 – WD and HO Wills begin operations in Bristol

The company that would eventually form a founding element of Imperial Brands is born on Castle Street in Bristol, adding to the city’s reputation as a vibrant manufacturing hub.

1834 – The four Charlies

Charles Lambert and Charles Butler form the company which would become L&B. They exhibit their products at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, before their sons – also Charles and Charles – take over the business in the late 19th century.

1877 – Another heritage brand is born

John Player buys a tobacco factory, a site that would become part of three production hubs in the city by the turn of the century. His name would be given to the famous John Player Special brand that continues to this day as JPS.

1886 – Rolling with the times

Lacroix swaps the tissue paper it had been using in production of rolling papers for rice paper, and in turn adds “Riz” to its La Croix name, creating the Rizla brand.

1901 – Imperial becomes the challenger business to Duke

When an American business led by James Duke looks to buy up British tobacco companies with the aim of dominating the UK market, the previously divided Wills, Player, and Lambert and Butler companies come together, forming the Imperial Tobacco Company.

1910 – The birth of Reemtsma

Bernhard Reemtsma acquires a stake in Dixi, a German business that would later become the multinational Reemtsma company. Production skyrockets through automation, rising from 575,000 cigarettes per month in 1916 to 4 million just two years later.

1910 – The French connection

Across the border in France, the Gauloises brand is created. The business later joins tobacco monopoly SEITA and merges with its Spanish counterpart, Tabacalera, in 1999 to become Altadis.

1954 – Sports and slogans

The Winston brand is launched in the United States by RJ Reynolds, notable for its historic associations with both sport and the grammatically suspect “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should” strapline.  

1981 – Challenging in Europe

Reemtsma launches West cigarettes in Germany, in direct challenge to the growing domination of premium American cigarette brands. In the same year, Nobel is launched by Tabacalera, immediately carving out a distinct market position in Spain with a similar challenger ethos.

1996 – Independence Day

Imperial Tobacco Group plc is listed on the London Stock Exchange as an independent business following a decade as part of the Hanson conglomerate. At this point Imperial is still a predominantly a UK-focused business.

1999 – Land down under

Following a merger between two competitors, Imperial is invited to enter the Australian market in September 1999, acquiring brands like Horizon and Champion.

2002 – A transformational deal

Imperial makes the transformational acquisition of Reemtsma, adding the international cigarette brands West and Davidoff to its portfolio and gaining a significant presence in Germany and in markets in Eastern Europe.

2003 – Snus rebels

Friends Adam Gillberg and Jonas Engwall create Skruf to provide an alternative to existing snus brands on the market in Sweden and release their first product.

2004 – An evolution of vapour

Chinese inventor Hon Lik releases the first version of his e-cigarette, the Ruyan. Mr Hon would go on to share his company’s vapour assets and expertise with Imperial and supports its continuing development of the blu brand.

2005 – Another step towards harm reduction

Skruf, a Swedish manufacturer of snus, is acquired by Imperial, marking a first foray into the world of oral nicotine delivery that would eventually include the sale of tobacco-free oral nicotine products under the Skruf and Zone X brands.

2007 – Imperial’s first entry into US market

Imperial takes its first footsteps into the American market with the acquisition of Commonwealth Brands, whose brands include USA Gold and Sonoma cigarettes and a number of fine cut brands including Bali Shag.

2008 – Imperial further strengthened by Altadis

Altadis, a few years after its creation from a merger of SEITA, the French national champion and Tabacalera, its Spanish equivalent, is acquired by Imperial. The deal combines the fourth and fifth largest international tobacco companies, and brings brands such as Gauloises, Nobel and Fortuna into our stable.

2015 – ITG and the USA

Imperial acquires additional cigarette brands in the United States such as Winston and Kool, cigar brands including Backwoods and Dutch Masters, and the international rights to the blu vapour brand. These assets are merged with Imperial’s existing portfolio within Commonwealth Brands to create a strengthened US challenger, ITG Brands.

2016 – A new name

Imperial Tobacco is renamed Imperial Brands, reflecting the company’s expansion into potentially less harmful alternatives to traditional tobacco products.

2021 – Feeling the Pulze

As part of our commitment to a healthier future, our heated tobacco device Pulze is launched in Europe through pilots in the Czech Republic and Greece. Its performance exceeds expectations and by mid-2023 it had been rolled out to a further five markets.

2022 and 2023 – More new products

A new partnership approach to innovation delivers a step change in product development and launches. blu 2.0, the first product to be delivered from our refocused innovation pipeline, is rolled out nationally in France, UK and Spain, among other markets. An all-new Pulze 2.0 is also introduced, and multiple new flavours are added to the Zone X modern oral portfolio.

By 2024 our next generation products are available in more than 20 European markets, as well as in the USA.


Bristol-based WD and HO Wills was one of the founding companies that would later unite to form the Imperial Tobacco Company.

The innovative introduction of rice paper led to the naming of the iconic Rizla brand.

Imperial Tobacco Group plc was listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1996.

The 2002 acquisition of the German-based business Reemtsma was a transformational one for the swiftly growing Imperial.

Hon Lik, the inventor of the e-cigarette, would go on to partner with Imperial.

The acquisition of Commonwealth Brands marked Imperial's entry into the US market.

The Pulze heated tobacco device is launched in selected European markets, creating additional choice for consumers.

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