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Snus history

1492-1900: From tobacco's route to Sweden to one of Sweden's biggest industry and to the Snus monoply

In 1492 Columbus made landfill in the New World, in the region of the Bahamas. And new cultures with new goods, seds and habits would change Europe for ever.

In the 'New World', the ship's crew were met by the native population, the Lucayans, and were handed gifts - including "some dry leaves that they regarded as valuable", as Columbus wrote in his diary. The sailors saw how the natives rolled the dry leaves with a maize leaf, set fire to the roll, and inhaled te smoke. The roll was called a "tobago". The Spanish and Portuguese brought the tobacco plant back across the Atlantic to Europe. Later on, the french ambassador Jean Nicot placed in Lisbon, would play an important role in the plants spread across Europe. For this, Carl Von Linné would base its Latin name after Jean Nicot - Nicotiana.

It is said that the French queen, Catherine de Medici (1519-1589), suffered from severe migraines and that on the advice of Jean Nicot. The queen tried nasal snuff - finley grinded dried tobacco leaves. Her migrines dissappeared, and Catherine continued using snuff, which led to nasal snuff becoming popular at the French court.

Tobacco usage then spread rapidly throughout Europe and reach Sweden in the end of 1500s. The earliest mention of tobacco in Sweden datesfrom 1601, when Custom Office in Stockholm noted the importation of tobacco and pipes into the country.

Snuff usage was very popular in aristocraic circles in the 1700s, but it was quite different from today's "snus". Snuff in the 1700s was a dry, finley ground and aromatic tobacco powder that was taken nasally.

Snuff was a luxuary product and its manufacture was expensive, and as a result, its users - both male and female - were mainly members of the upper class. But 1789, the French Revolution changed everything and marked the beginning of the end for the strict class society that had been regarded as an expression of a universal, natural law. And with this change, the use of snuff came to an abrupt end - opening a snuffbox in wrong circles could have dire consequences. Tobacco usage became a political stance

While smoking or chewing tobacco took the place off snuff, oral snus - or wet snus - increased in popularity in the early 1800's in Sweden. Wet snus, was made by combining dried tobacco leaves with water, salt, and pot ash - and of ocurse different ingredients for taste. Bergamott, juniperberry, and different flowers were usual ingredients for adding other tastes to the snus.

We do not know exacly when the wet snus emerged, but we do belive it was the farmers who developed it - and they did so all across the country, making their own by using tobacco they grew in their own yards. Tobacco farming was not uncommon in Sweden, rather it was very common.

In the beginning of the 1700s, the Swedish King Fredrik I, who was inspired by mercantilistick ideals, ordered every town in Sweden to start growing tobacco. Rather than importing, he wanted to start exporting, and as tobacco was one of those products that Sweden was imprting large amouts of it resulted in this decree.

Tobacco cultivation in Sweden was a female occupation, and farms and knowledge was handed down mother to daughter. The tobacco plant only can grow during the summer, and during this season young women would come from small towns to work on tobacco plantations.

The use of snus was enhanced by the industrial revolution and people moving into the cities. Working on feilds, and deciding over ones own breaks, as well as beeing able to grow tobacco in ones own yard, meant that you could take a break whenever you felt like it to endulge in smoking or chewing tobacco. But when working in the cities and in factories, it meant that you had more restrict working conditions. However, the snus you could easily put under your lip and enjoy for a longer time, making it a perfect indulgance for 'the modern man'.

Buying snus was also rather cheap, and was bought in various diffrent tyes of paper packaging, such as a ocne or a cartridge, and then transferred to the individual's own snus box. The common man usually made his own box from simple materials, but put a great deal of effort into the execution, making as luxiourius as possible. When two met and introduced themselves, or simply greeted one another, it was common to extend one's snus box and offer a pinch of snus. The Swedish word for a 'pinch' - 'pris' - came from the French and meant 'token'. Commonly inscripted on Snuff and Snus boxes was "Tag en pris" - which translates too; "Take a pinch".

By 1897, there was 97 tobaco-factories with over 4000 workers in Sweden. However, there was a few brands and companies who was in the top: Jacob Fredrik Junglöf with Ettan ('number 1'), Johan Adolf Boman with General, the brothers Petter and Olof Swartz with Röda lacket ('the red laquer'), and, W:m Hellgren & Co with Grofsnus ('rough snus').

In 1915, all of their, and all other snus-manufacturers stories would end, as the state implemeded a monopoly on snus-making. The state needed money to fund the army and to provide pensions to the workers, who had since 1888 worked hard for better worker conditions. Thus, the state bought out all manufacturers and all brands - as snus-manufacturing still was one of the most lucrative business in Sweden. From existing over 100 of brands, only about 20 was kept. It would take another four decades until the monopoly on snus-making would dismissed.

The beginning of the 1900's snus consumption had declined, to hit the highest lows in the mid 50's. Our tradition of snusing might have been a thing of the past, if it not had been saved by an invention that hit the markets in 1977 - the 'snusåse' (snus"bag").

A scientist at one of the Swedish manufacturers at the time had read several reports showing the hazurdas effects to smoking, and consequently quit. However, he did not like the effort it took to snus - baking a small 'prilla' - like a snus-ball made by hand roughly the size of a dice. Nor did he like how the 'prilla' eventually fell out of its baked form and started to rin behind the lip. One day, he cut open a tea-bag and placed a 'prilla' inside it instead, thus inventig the 'snuspåse'.

The 'snuspåse' first launched under the new snus-product 'Smokeless' in 1973, in an effort to make smokers quit. However, snus was regarded as 'uncool' and smookers did not want to give up their habit. It was in 1977, with 'Tre Ankare' ("three ankers") that the 'snusbag' finally took the snusers and market by storm. It more resemled a classic snus in its taste, of water, salt and herbs, and gave the snus a comeback, saving our over 200 uear old tradition.

How was snus packaged?

Snuff flask with spoon - for easy access for nasal snuff - with devil's head, 1700's

Toby Jug, stamped: Gustavsberg, 1840 - 'Toby Jugs' are porcelain pots representing men dressed in the fashions of the 1700s, and who are either offering or taking a pinch of nasal snuff. The hat acts as the pot's lid. These Toby Jugs were popular between the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Snuff or snus box in tin. Snuff and snus boxes often had two lids, which one of the lids often contained a mirror. ca. 1800s

These kind of jugs contained snus being sold in stores, you could either buy snus from these jugs in a paper cone or transfer your fresh snus into your own box. Produced in Falun, 1876-1913.

One could also buy snus in 'karduser', smaller paper packages, often containing about 250 g of snus. This kardus contained 'RUBENS PAKETSNUS', ca. 1915-1916, and was produced in 'Rubens tobacco factory' in Karlskrona. After the tobacco monopoly was established in 1915, the snus remained on the market first under the name 'Rubens Snus', but was renamed only one year later to 'Karlskronasnus'.

With the tobacco monopoly, disposable one-use oval snus-boxes in paper started to take over the market. Instead of transferring snus into one's own box, consumers started to buy this kind of box instead. ca. 1920-1930

The round box - in the late 50's, the round boxes started to appear. This was due to a collaboration with an American snus manufacturer who had effective machines which produced round boxes. The round box, also of the disposable kind, took over the market completely. The last oval box was removed from the market as late as the 80's. They contained 250 g, whilst the smaller oval boxes, which was discontinued most likely in the late 60's, contained 50 g. The round box usually and still do contain about 40 g of snus.