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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
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…
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
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