Photo Essay: House Of Sampoerna, Cigarette Factory And Museum

Located in Surabaya, the House Of Sampoerna is museum and active factory, as well as a popular tourist attraction. In 1913 Liem Seeng Tee, a Chinese immigrant to Indonesia, started what would become one of the biggest cigarette businesses in the entire country. Despite the ridiculously high number of smokers in modern Indonesia, tobacco is not native to the archipelago. It was first introduced by the western world in the late 17th century and gradually over the next 150 years became a major crop in the region. Nowadays some of the biggest tobacco-growing islands of Indonesia include Sumatra, Java, Bali, and Lombok, with a combined area of over 250,000 hectares under cultivation.

Sampoerna Founder Liem Seeng Tee
A lifesize photo of Sampoerna founder Liem Seeng Tee and his Indonesian wife.

Although the company is called Sampoerna, meaning perfection, their most popular brand of cigarettes is Dji Sam Soe. This brand and others they produce are not like traditional tobacco cigarettes such as Marlboro. In fact they are known as kretek cigarettes, or in other words a combination of tobacco and cloves. The name comes from the crackling sound the cigarettes makes as they are burned. Although Liem Seeng Tee was not the inventor of kretek cigarettes, when he founded his company in 1913 they were just starting to become popular as — believe it or not — a medicinal product!

House Of Sampoerna circa 1938
The large center photo was taken during the new years carnival in 1938. Founder Liem Seeng Tee purchased the property in 1932 to cope with growing demand for his product.

The cigarettes produced here contain six different types of tobacco, four of which are from different regions in Indonesia and the remaining two types imported all the way from Rio Grande Do Sul (the southernmost state in Brazil) and North Carolina, United States. They also contain six different types of cloves, all of which come from various parts of Indonesia.

Fresh Tobacco At House Of Sampoerna
Fresh tobacco at House Of Sampoerna, prior to be dried and mixed.

Fresh Cloves At House Of Sampoerna
Fresh cloves from a variety of different regions, ready for drying and rolling.

Visitors arriving prior to noon have the option of seeing hundreds of employees hard at work hand-rolling cigarettes. Each must roll a minimum of 325 cigarettes an hour (5-1/2 a minute) or face termination. Many can roll even more than that. The half dozen with the highest production numbers form an elite team that works in a separate glass-walled room by themselves that is located in the visitor section of the museum.

Factory Workers At House Of Sampoerna
Hundreds of factory workers hand-rolling cigarettes at House Of Sampoerna in Surabaya. There is a very strict no photograph policy in place for this section of the plant. However I had the three ladies with me stand around and provide cover while I snapped a few photos ๐Ÿ˜‰

Walking through the rest of the museum we were free to take as many photos as we wanted. It documents the history and struggles of the company and their now notoriously unhealthy products. Throughout the whole thing I wanted to ask our tour guide if there were any cases of cancer among the members of the family-owned business, who were smoking in every photograph. Of course that would have been rather impolite…

Classic Motorcycle At House Of Sampoerna
This old motorcycle was owned by one of the Sampoerna family members.

Old Style Cigarette Shop At House Of Sampoerna
An example of a cigarette store in the middle of the 20th century.

House Of Sampoerna Chariot
This horse-drawn chariot used to belong to the Sampoerna family.

Classic Cigarette Testing Equipment At House Of Sampoerna
Classic laboratory cigarette testing equipment. Of course this was also back when kretek cigarettes were a medical “cure all” LOL ๐Ÿ˜‰

Classic Cigarette Laboratory Equipment At House Of Sampoerna
More classic cigarette test equipment, supplies, and samples.

House Of Sampoerna Marching Band Outfit And Equipment
House Of Sampoerna Marching Band outfit and equipment

Old House Of Sampoerna Printing Plates
Old House Of Sampoerna printing plates for producing cigarette packaging.

House Of Sampoerna Museum

Classic House Of Sampoerna Photographs
Classic House Of Sampoerna photographs and production methods

Classic House Of Sampoerna Photographs
Classic House Of Sampoerna photographs and production methods

House Of Sampoerna Cigarettes
House Of Sampoerna cigarettes

House Of Sampoerna Cigarettes
House Of Sampoerna cigarettes

House Of Sampoerna Board Of Directors
In March of 2005 House Of Sampoerna was purchased by Philip Morris.

In March of 2005, after five generations of family ownership, the Sampoerna family sold the business to Philip Morris, who was all to eager to take over in a country where 90% of the adult male population smokes cigarettes — especially after increasing anti-cigarette legislation in the USA over the last couple decades had restricted advertising, increased taxes, and decreased sales. Cigarettes in Indonesia sell for 10-12,000 IDR a pack (roughly $1USD). Something nearly every tourist seems to love…

House Of Sampoerna Museum
I had the pleasure of being shown the museum by three of my local friends.

House Of Sampoerna Museum
Here we are posing outside of the museum.

  As interesting, intriguing, and informative as the House Of Sampoerna is, quite possibly the best thing about it is that it’s 100% free admission! All they ask is that if you show up with a group of 25 or more to call in advance.

  Taman Sampoerna 6, Surabaya 60163
+62 31 353-9000
[email protected]

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About Derek Freal

"Some people eat, others try therapy. I travel." ย  Cultural enthusiast. Adrenaline junkie. Eater of strange foods. Chasing unique and offbeat adventures around the world since 2008. Derek loves going to new destinations where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, or places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo -- supposedly its healthier and more efficient. For more information (about Derek, not squat pooing) including popular posts and videos, check out his bio.

18 thoughts on “Photo Essay: House Of Sampoerna, Cigarette Factory And Museum”

    • Oh there are a lot of strange museums around the world, museums for everything. I once went to a Barb Wire museum (in Kansas — no surprise there LOL). This one was not that weird but it was cool to visit a museum that is also still an active factory.

  1. Gotta’ say, I’ve never been able to stand the smell of cigarettes, but the factory and inner workings look fascinating. I’ve seen cigars rolled by hand and it’s like an art form. Except, never at this large of a scale. Tis’ a shame the family sold it, hopefully it doesn’t lose its history.

    • I cannot stand the smell of cigarettes either, especially when people smoke them inside of buildings or vehicles and the smell just lingers. But I will say that kretek cigarettes, because of the cloves, do not smell anywhere near as nasty as tobacco cigarettes.

      Yup, always a shame when a privately owned business sells out to a greedy, international corporation — especially one as F’d as Philip Morris. Who knows what the future holds for Sampoerna now…

    • I am definitely having a blast in Indonesia — one of the reasons I keep coming back here. Out of the 21 countries I have visited so far, Indonesia is the one I have spent more time in than any other ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. What a cool museum/factory. I’ve seen a lot of cigar factories before but never cigarettes. I have to seriously consider indonesia as a travel destination now after seeing all of your posts. Looks so fun!

    • You two really should come visit this amazing country! I have plenty more posts on Indonesia ready and waiting to be published. If you think you’re missing out already, just wait until you see some of my upcoming articles ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • It was definitely interesting seeing people still doing a job by hand which has long since been automated in most other places around the world. One of the many reasons why I love traveling — it’s always a learning experience ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. It was close to this time, several years ago, I had the extreme pleasure of showing Mr. T P Liem of the House of Samporena around Maui HI.
    It brought back so many great memories.
    arthur henry

    • Oh really? He and his family sold the company to Philip Morris around ten years ago, as I learned during my tour of the museum and factory. Did you pick his brain to see what his next business venture was going to be? ๐Ÿ˜‰ BTW as I type this I’m bundled up in a jacket in the mountains of northern India freezing my butt off yet now all I can think about is how amazing Maui was and how I wish I was there instead of here. So thanks for bringing back great memories for me as well…and a twinge of jealousy ๐Ÿ˜›


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