In 1888 a small tobacco factory opened in Kalamata, which was to become one of the most lucrative businesses not only in Greece, but in the whole of Europe. It was the “Karelia” tobacco factory, founded by brothers George and Efstathios Karelias.
The business really took off when the first automatic cigarette making machine was imported from England, something that was met with evident disapproval, since it would mean that many workers would be out of a job: when each cigarette maker and his assistant produced 2,000 – 3,000 cigarettes daily, the machine produced approximately 200,000 in seven hours! Despite the fierce reactions, the machine was finally installed here also, resulting in unbelievably high production rates. The industry’s “golden age” was during the 1950s, when various types of cigarettes were launched in the market, which quickly became popular all over Greece. Then, in 1973 the company entered the Athens Stock Exchange, and in 2000 the industry was the second biggest one in Greece. Despite the various disputes and unfortunate occasions that marked its course, the “Karelia” industry undoubtedly brought out the huge potential of the province to contribute to our country’s business activities, making its name heard beyond the Greek borders
The Karelias factory in Kalamata has an active presence in the tobacco industry for more than one hundred years and holds one of the top positions in this particularly competitive market.
The factory was established in 1888 by the brothers Georgios and Efstathios Karelias. It was once a small business, providing the town of Kalamata and the nearby villages with tobacco products. Initially, since Messinia did not produce its own quantities, the tobacco was transferred by boat from Agrinio and Lamia. Later, the business passed into the hands of Georgios Karelias’ four sons: Andreas, Ioannis, Konstantinos and Efstathios. In 1916, Andreas bought the first automatic cigarette-making machine, which was revolutionary in the field of cigarette production.
During the interwar period, tobacco production in Greece reached its peak. Tobacco became one of the most important export products, with an annual production of approximately 30,000 – 40,000 tons, the majority of which was intended to be sold abroad. Gradually, the reputation of the Karelias tobacco company expanded throughout the Peloponnese. From being 29th among the Greek tobacco companies in 1929, in 1932 it climbed up to 9th place. After the war, Karelias cigarettes gradually became known throughout Greece. At that time, the company released several varieties, like Extra Karelia, Lux, Eklekta, Rex, Rekor, Lithi and many more that quickly became very popular. During the 1960s, Karelias was among the four leading companies of the sector and became a Société Anonyme.
A decade later, due to ever-increasing production, Karelias transferred its factory just outside the city, and in 1973 it entered the Athens Stock Exchange, a definitive sign of being prosperous and established. Today, Karelias daily produces more than 45,000,000 cigarettes, which is a huge leap forward compared to its initial production of about 3,000 cigarettes per day! This is a long and successful history, marked by hard work that connects the provincial city of Kalamata with one of the most profitable businesses in the world.