The tobacco industry may have The Marlboro Man, but us cannabis lovers have someone way more suave and debonair to look up to: the legendary Zig-Zag man.
Over the years, Zig-Zag rolling papers have become synonymous with a smooth, slow-burning smoking experience. You know exactly what time it is when your friend pulls out the iconic bright orange packaging with the boldly mustachio-d man on the front — but have you ever stopped to pause and question who that man is and where did he come from? (Or how he groomed his facial hair so neatly?)
We’re answering those burning questions and more in today’s cannabis history lesson: “The Zig-Zag Man Explained”.
A Brief History
In order to understand the Zig-Zag man aka Captain Zig-Zag, we must first discuss the origins of the brand. Founded in 1855 by Maurice and Jacques Braunstein, the Zig-Zag brand introduced a new and convenient way to roll up tobacco products with specially designed paper.
The duo quickly found success and in a few short years, they were able to perfect a packaging process that allowed the papers to automatically dispense from a booklet one at a time in a “z” like shape: hence the name, Zig-Zag. The brand went on to patent the process and this invention alone secured them a gold medal at the Universal Exposition in Paris.
However, its slim design and ingenious packaging was not the only thing that was garnering attention — many found themselves wondering who was the dashing man on the cover of every booklet of rolling papers.
The truth is, the Zig-Zag man himself is a thing of folklore. As the legend goes, Captain Zig-Zag was in the throes of battle as a Zouave soldier when his clay pipe was shot and shattered in his hands. In serious need of a smoke, he decided to try rolling some tobacco up using a piece of paper torn from a musket cartridge. Little did he know that at The Siege of Sevastopol, his most treasured feat would be rolling up the cigarette that inspired an entire generation of stoners.
In this moment, Captain Zig-Zag went down in cannabis infamy and inspired a brand that we all know and respect. While the brand experimented with other looks and figureheads, the infamous bearded man became an integral part of their image and its success.
The Evolution of Captain Zig-Zag
With over 140 years of business under his belt, the Zig-Zag man has seen a number of iterations and received many makeovers until he achieved the iconic neon look we know and love. Let’s take a closer look at how he got to be the charming, almost hipster Captain of today.
While the company had been founded for a number of years at this point, the Zouave soldier we know as the Zig-Zag man did not appear on the packaging until 1879. The intricate image paid tribute to the ever-resourceful soldier that inspired a do-it-yourself movement.
The year that changed everything: In 1894 the Braunstein Brothers perfected and patented their iconic “z” shaped packaging method. They named the new product "Zig-Zag" after the unique shape the interweaved papers make when pulled from the package. Still in use today, each booklet is made with the same revolutionary process.
In 1900, Zig-Zag papers skyrocketed to international fame when they were awarded a gold medal at the Universal Exposition in Paris. Just six short years later, Zig-Zag was registered as a trademark and found success in nearly every corner of the world.
In classic “do first, and ask for forgiveness later” form, the Zig-Zag logo is used as the design of a poster for a performance in San Francisco at the Avalon ballroom for Big Brother, The Holding Company (Janis Joplin), and Quicksilver Messenger Service in the Summer of 1966.
While the creators of the poster did not bother obtaining official copyright authorization, they did take the time to include a quote at the bottom of the poster: “What you don’t know about copying and duplicating won’t hurt you.” Lesson learned.
In 1969 the Captain Zig-Zag campaign was created and our Captain was born. Depicted similar to the Uncle Sam propaganda poster, the Zig-Zag man posed with the quote “Captain Zig-Zag Wants YOU!” underneath. While the campaign was short-lived, the name Captain Zig-Zag has stuck around for good.
Further solidifying their place in pop culture, Dr. Dre releases his first solo album “Chronic” with the homage to Zig-Zag rolling paper on the album cover. The image features a depiction of himself within the gold Zig-Zag frame, looking ready to smoke some chronic.
Flash forward to today, and Zig-Zag proudly sells a wide range of rolling papers and smoking accessories with that same ingenious soldier drawn out on every package. He now seems to sport a slouchy beanie with an impressive stache, clearly trying to fit in with his new circle of stoner friends — but no matter what he wears or how he styles his facial hair, we still know that his face represents nearly 200 years of experience and quality smokes.
Whether Captain Zig-Zag is a legend or a real man is still up for debate, but it is clear that the classic rolling papers are not going anywhere anytime soon. Next time you find yourself rolling up a joint with Zig-Zag papers, we hope this little history lesson gives you some insight into the man on the cover, smiling up at you.