During the last decade of the nineteen-century, to the small Buenos Aires the smoke were gone up to the head. She aspired to rise to the condition of "Second Latin capital of the Earth". To achieve it, it was so willing to get rid of the ballast of the antique, as to consume all the new ravenously. The speed will replace to the still, the ostentation to the modesty, the affectation to the simple naturalness.

With the hand of a few ones. The luxury strolls boastful of having put in a corner the misticity of the village. The likes changed and the consumption rules changed too. Alfredo, the main character of Hours of fever (1891) is dressed with the best imported clothes, he builds a palace, he exhibits in Florida (the most famous pedestrian street of Argentina), he eats in the best restaurants, and he spends in jeweller’s and expensive furniture shops. Buenos Aires look at Europe and she imitates her.

The city changes rhythm, color and flavor: "the Italian generous and heroic music, the French wines and the cigarettes of Havana, give enthusiasm, happiness and aroma of opulence" aims Juan Balestra. In 1890 the fever reached its higher temperature. More than the end of the euphoria, the 90 and their crisis were a warning spasm. The end of the century lavished optimism, and promised that its peacefulness was only a modest advance of what was to come.

The surprising demographic growth of the Argentina, in the XIX and XX centuries, enlarged the internal market diversifying the demand. Of the almost four millions and half inhabitants of 1895, the country passed to seven millions eight hundred thousand in 1914. This process stimulated the passage from the home-made industry to the automated industrial production. Toward the decade of 1870 our incipient industrial establishments only manufactured "the ruin of their owners". Starting from 1880 the production of foods and gear is accentuated, giving bigger importance to the manufacturer sector in the production of the national wealth. The products traditionally required by the elementary necessities of consumption of the Creole Argentina won't escape from that change. The "mate" (most popular argentine drink), the sugar, the meat, the canvas shoes and the cigarettes can not be subtracted to the process of change imposed by a wider and more comprehensive market of almost the whole territory of the country. Until half of the XIX century, the production of cigars and cigarettes remained subject to the conditions of the colonial economy, hardly with variants. The country independence from Spain (1816) had put an end to the Real Rent of Tobaccos that monopolized the elaboration and sale of the product, but it had not been able to overcome the limitations imposed by the quality of the tobacco and the modality of manufacturing.

The tobacco figured as an article of first necessity. It was not enough to know that "it was an extremely desirable gender, a need that is affordable", a historian points out mentioning to the colonial period. So much importance had that in 1778 Spain sent Don Francisco de Paula Sanz to the Río the la Plata commanding "an expedition of the tobacco". It should try to improve the revenues of the real country property, carrying out a market study that established the likes of the consumers. The preferences of these were distributed among the powdered tobacco that was aspired by the nose, and that of branch that was smoked or chewed. Toward 1825, an English traveller notices that Buenos Aires have preference for the cigars. But they are expensive and they don't always arrive under good conditions. Paper and leaf cigars are more used.

Those cigars were sold in warehouses and groceries. "Almost all the grocers had their "picador" (chopper) of tobacco, a kind of travelling professor that went from one warehouse to another" José Antonio Wilde refers. Grocers preferred this system because, in this way, they avoided the cigarreros in their houses to substitute the good tobacco for another of inferior quality. The cigarrero put on his legs a can with the chopped tobacco, paper leaves and a knife. The packages and the wrappings were not known. He tied up between sixteen and twenty cigarettes with a black thread. The production of leaf cigars gave work and sustenance to many poor families. This way of producing cigarettes was replaced by the industrial establishment, where women were made the cigarettes by hand. In large rooms still took place those elementary varieties of a product with growing demand and with a variety of likes that was necessary to assist. In 1898, two young friends decide to install a small establishment to manufacture cigarettes. They had a small capital, a modest attic in the street De La Piedad (today Bartolomé Mitre), of what they sought to make and of how they should make it.

Juan Oreto and Juan L. Piccardo invested 300 pesos in acquiring a rudimentary manual machine of iron to chop tobacco. Very soon they would incorporate a more complete and speedier one, the Bonsak, with capacity to elaborate two hundred cigarettes per minute. In the number 3493 of that same street De La Piedad Antonio Piccardo's mechanical shop worked offering repairs of steam machines, gas, kerosene and the production of machines to elaborate candies. The following year the company incorporates two new partners: Emilio Costa and Pedro Piccardo.

For those days of 1899 other signs of the maturity reached by the Argentinean industrialism appear. On July 26 the great concentration of the industry was carried out. More than eighty thousand people marched from square Lorea to the Congress. The industry needed that the country recognized it as an important factor of its economic life. President Roca, returned to the presidency at 55 years of age, trying to be equally distanced from the indiscriminate opening and the absolute protectionism: "the protection should be rational and equal", he explained. The small company on the loft of the street De La Piedad was born with good auspices. The situation of Cuba, freed from Spain after the war of 1898, affected the world market of tobaccos. It was in fact in Cuba where, a month after the discovery of America, the Spaniards met "the tobacco of smoking". That discovery of the wonderful herb took place in a favorable time for its reception like a panacea in the Old World. It left from Cuba to Europe in the first trip of return of Columbus, and starting from there it expanded all over the world with extraordinary speed. Fernando Ortíz, the historian of the tobacco, says that that expansion was spontaneous, quick and extensive. The Spaniards in India smoked first undercover, and then with naturalness. They took the plant and, in the XVI and XVII centuries they exported America the cigarette wrapped in paper. In France their production began in 1842. According to the learned Ned Rival, the cigarette reached massive diffusion in Europe after the war of Crimea, between 1854 and 1856.

The cigarette is a mestizo son, Ortiz says "it is a luxury of first necessity", besides being the most popular and universal. One of their more important functions, García Gallo scores is to "offer a company in the solitude". The long voyages in carts or carriages, tinged with the stops in the posts spread in the solitude, become bearable with the inseparable alliance among the mate, the cigarette, the barbecue and the card. The progress begun in 1880 won't expel such habits, but rather it will incorporate them, more discriminated, to the modern country.

Oreto and Piccardo capture the moment, they imagine the evolution of the demand and they prepare to respond to their growth. The national tobacco can begin to substitute the good tobacco that it is still imported. "The one that eats and doesn't smoke is like one that gets lost and doesn't scream", it was the statement in the Argentinean north arrived from Bolivia. To satisfy the desire to have that luxury of first necessity by hand is the objective of Piccardo. Soon the loft of the street De La Piedad is narrow. It is necessary to have bigger places to store the tobacco. Soon, the company of friends should also acquire the features of a formal company.

When that happens, in 1899, the firm celebrates the eves from the new century having sold 316.000 packages of cigarettes and soon they multiplied that figure. The modest shop becomes a factory. First it works in Defensa 1155, and then in the 1236 of the same street. The half dozen of workers also multiplies by 20, and it doesn't stop to be increased. Piccardo launched a brand that, with the time, will become the oldest cigarettes in the world with more continuity. The 43 appear.

Why 43?. According to a version, for that Belgian that bought stocks that were not worth more than 42 pesos to 43, like a profession of optimistic faith in Buenos Aires stock of 1890 while the stocks collapsed. According to another version, also related with the stocks world, 42 stockmen operated there. When somebody detected an intruder he screamed: "Forty three, forty three"! to notice that strange presence. The number had its history, and in those years its fame. A fame largely overcome by the one that would achieve those cigarettes that, as many of those produced Nobleza-Piccardo, belong to the landscape, the memories and the flavor of the Argentinean thing.

To the "43 originales" were soon added the "43 especiales" and the brand Casino. In only one year, consigned the annals of the company, 460.120.000 cigarettes were sold. The popular publicity, transmitted spontaneously, was reinforced with the campaigns in magazines as "Caras y Caretas" and "Fray Mocho". Soon the cards of 2 cents were included in the package, those that accumulated could be exchanged by a new pack. Those cards would end up circulating as currency. Then other bigger attractive prizes would come. The 43 "had the sign of the quality that identified the pleasure, the flavor and the aroma of the Argentinean cigarette."

On June 1st 1914, the third national census took place and included a meticulous report of the Argentinean industry. According to that census, the cigarette industry had establishments that, for their capitals, perfection of their machineries, workers' number and annual value of their production, were comparable with the major and bigger of the world. Argentina was "one of the countries where the cigarettes are presented better, of superior quality and cheaper."

One year before, when Roque Sáenz Peña still governed, an ordinance had been signed that authorized the operation of the Compañía Nacional de Tabacos (National Company of Tobaccos) that had an initial capital of five million pesos. Twenty years later it will pass to be denominated Compañía Nobleza de Tabacos SA (Company Nobility of Tobaccos SA), by virtue of an ordinance that prohibited the employment of the national term in the name of commercial companies, Also in 1913, Piccardo and Company becomes an anonymous society.

The First World War causes the interruption of the normal supply of manufactured articles. The war stimulates the expansion of the existent companies in the country and the appearance of new enterprises. Between 1900 and 1914, the population grew to an annual rhythm of 4.2%, while the gross product grew at a rate of 5.5%. In 1914, the evaluation of Piccardo SA year, was frankly positive: "the elaboration and sale of the products of the society in the year, accuse progress in relation to the previous exercises; and the directory considers that the obtained financial result is satisfactory". undoubtedly it was it, and the numbers of the stock balance presented to the shareholders confirmed it fully. Deduced the amounts dedicated to the reservation funds, it was a remainder of 1.756.000 pesos, equivalent to not much more than 700.000 dollars. The advertising campaigns of the classic marks of Piccardo, 43, Excelsior and Plus Ultra (launched in 1926 in homage to Ramón Franco and the crew that crossed the Atlantic by plane), it included designs with notorious signatures. In the twenties, the posters of Piccardo leaned on in the feminine grace characteristic of those "crazy years", in Egyptian motives -as those of Huergo - or Incan.

Meanwhile, Nobleza experiences a not less remarkable expansion, not only financial, but also physical. That year 1920 the lands are acquired and the works of foundation of the new deposits, factory, and own offices begin in the street Puán, in the neighborhood of Caballito (Buenos Aires), where it works now the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the UBA. Nobleza produced, in 1919, three million packages of fourteen cigarettes each one, usual quantity in the packs of the time. In the year 1923, their line of tobaccos Mariposa (Butterfly) achieved great acceptance. That same year Nobleza obtained the license to manufacture in the country Player's, a famous brand in the world. Also in 1923 their mark Pour the Noblesse, at 20 cents the pack reached a sales record of 14.000.000 of packages.

At the end of the XIX century these companies are gestated. During the first decade of the XX century they are secured in the market, and in the years 1920 they experimented a remarkable expansion. It is the time of brands like The Flag, City Club, Magnos, Celma, and Senadores (black tobacco). The Cuyanos, Flor de Ceibo and Argos appear to cover the demand of the popular sectors for their accessible price. In 1935, Nobleza starts the distribution of products of "Manufactura de Tabacos Mitjans's, Colombo y Compañía" that produced the Clifton, Commander, Piloto and Dixis cigarettes.

Many brands remain fixed in the collective memory with so much force that their single mention acts like a key able to open the coffer of the memories. Piccardo on one hand, and Nobleza on the other, left a long list of brands among those that can be mentioned: Columbia, American Club, Gloster, Embajadores, Fontanares, Commander, Jockey Club, Viceroy, Derby, Lucky Strike, Pall Mall, Clifton, Camel, Parisiennes, and many more.

Nobleza introduced in 1938 the first filtered cigarettes of the country, the blond (tobacco) Richmond, and the Tranquilos (black tobacco). The public's pleasure had not changed completely and the filtered cigarettes will have to wait until 1960 when Piccardo launched their Gloster (blond) and the 43 (black). In 1962 Nobleza launched first King Size cigarette, the popular Jockey Club, and then the first 100 millimeters, the Commander, followed by Windsor, the first slim cigarette in 1972. In 1977, one year before the coalition, the first of 120 millimeters appears (Jockey Club).

But the brand of more success in sales and continuity for 66 years is, without doubts, Jockey Club, launched to the market with remarkable success in 1926 in packages of 10 units of 70 millimeters, usual length for that time. Retired of the sale in 1947, they reappeared two years later. The Jockey is a unique case in the Argentinean market of cigarettes. At the beginning of 1964 it became the best selling brand of the country, and the following year it conquered 16.5 percent of the national market, portion that will enlarge in 1967 when it achieved 25,6 percent of that market.

That market experienced constant changes, to which Piccardo and Nobleza, still separated, should respond. The pack of 14 units is replaced in the twenties by those of 20 units. Half century later other changes are perceived. The public prefers them blond: more than 70 percent of the sales were concentrated on that variety, while 10 years before the acceptance of blond and black was equally distributed. Around 90 percent of the smokers preferred filtered cigarettes, and 55 percent smoked king size cigarettes.

Together with its development, the Compañía Nacional de Tabacos fixed as an objective to stimulate the technological advance. In 1925, when the stabilization of the cultivations of tobacco had not still taken place in the country, it hired E. H. Mathewson, world specialist in the variety Virginia. The expert carried out a floor study in Bonpland (Misiones). As a result of his work 27 varieties of seed of Virginia tobacco were imported, beginning to the previous tests of cultivation. Similar tasks were carried out in Corrientes and in Salta (provinces of Argentina) in 1929. Piccardo and Nobleza also paid special attention to the social and cultural promotion, founding public libraries, opening up and maintaining child care facilities, building housings for their employees in Buenos Aires and the provinces, stimulating the improvements in the cultivations of tobacco with the introduction of new varieties, and taking care of their human resources by means of their appropriate training and promotion. The net of salespersons of Nobleza in the whole country became an extended web of independent distributors to whom it was given the possibility of acquiring buildings, deposits, vehicles and furniture provided by the company. From 1918, date of the inauguration of the first branch in Rosario, and until beginnings of 1970 the company ended up having 110 branches and deposits. In 1977 these two companies that had grown almost in parallel form, imbued of the same values, a similar history, and a similar responsibility management, announced their coalition. They were not the only elements that favored the idea. During decades Nobleza and Piccardo had maintained excellent relationships, not only exercising a loyal competition, but also cordial. The coalition was also object of a meticulous study. A chat among the presidents of both signatures, Francisco Botero and Juan Martín Oneto Gauna, by the middle of 1976, was good to pass in clean the idea that already floated in both companies. In that way a jump took place in quality and efficiency of the two companies that, responding to the world tendencies, inaugurated a new modality in the Argentinean managerial history.

The coalition process took its time, and it was completed in the moment that both occupied the same physical space and achieved an assembly in their production systems and commercialization. The urban space of the capital adjusted as a corset to the new giant that passed to occupy the plant of General Motors in San Martin's district, just in the limit of the Federal Capital with the Buenos Aires province. In those 250.000 square meters, previously reconditioned, the industrial plants, offices and deposits of Nobleza-Piccardo began to work in December of 1981. The modest beginnings in the attic were as the prehistory of a company whose prodigious development the pioneers imagined at the end of the XIX century. Five years after the coalition, Nobleza-Piccardo controlled 57 percent of the cigarette market. In 1982 it became the private company with more billing. The beautiful and fragile leaves of the tobacco became the lasting and resistant symbol of a history that began opened up in two arms, but that reached their maturity when both converged to respond to the challenges that will come during next hundred years.

Reproduced from the magazine "Todo es Historia" Número 313 August 1993.
(Thanks to Juan Francisco de la Torre Pérez for providing the original document. Electronic translated to English by Alejandro Butera)