Sir Adamjee – From a Match Trader to a Nation Builder

Sir Adamjee Haji Dawood (1880-1948). Photo credit : unknown author, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Exhibitor : Badrul Hisham Jaafar

This exhibit is dedicated to the match labels of a famous entrepreneur and industrialist who is one of the founding fathers of Pakistan: Sir Adamjee Haji Dawood (1880-1948).

Born in 1880 in Jetpur, Gujrat, British India of a Memon community, Sir Adamjee began his entrepreneurial venture very early in life when he was just a teenager. His real name is Adam Dawood Baig Mohammad. He was fondly called Adamjee by his mother where the suffix ‘jee’, sometimes spelled ‘ji’, denotes special affection in Gujarati family. He went to Burma (now Myanmar) in 1895 at a tender age of 15 to work as an apprentice. By the age of 18, he had begun operating his own business. In 1914, his company, Adamjee Dawood & Co was established and traded items such as rice, jute, and matches amongst others. In 1920 he built his own match factory in Rangoon which began match production by December of 1923.

This is a story of rags to riches, of mercantile to conglomerate, of a commoner to a national hero. Such a story deserves to be told and retold. As such, this exhibit intends to share part of his legacy by focusing on the match labels, a trade Sir Adamjee started off, amongst many of his joyous and arduous journey as an entrepreneur, a social visionary and philanthropist. Sir Adamjee was knighted in 1938 by the British Government due to his immense contribution to society such as his active involvement in flood relief activities and education related ventures amongst many others in British India.

The Trading Years, 1914 to 1924*

Imported brands of Adamjee’s matches from Japan.

Adamjee’s match factory

Adamjee’s match factory was reputed to be amongst the largest in Asia of its time, located in Pazundaung, Rangoon (Yangon) hired 1,400 employees mostly consist of Burmese women. His industrialization dream bears witness to a successful match manufacturing venture using German and Japan made machines. The business survived various episodes of hardship particularly the famous match trade war between Adamjee and the “match king” Ivar Kreuger of Swedish Match Company (SMC) who owned nearly 75 percent of world match trade at the time. It also survived the 1938 bloody riots of Burma and the 1942 Second World War. However, the factory was subsequently nationalized by the Burmese state in 1968.

The Manufacturing Years, 1923 to 1968*

Manufactured brands of Adamjee’s match labels from Burma (Myanmar). It was reported that Adamjee had over 2 dozen match label brand names manufactured out of his factory in Rangoon.

Please note that this is non-exhaustive of all brands traded and manufactured by Adamjee. It has taken me several years to accumulate these prized labels from all over the world and the hunt for other Adamjee’s match labels continues. Amongst those not available in this collection include Adamjee’s tiger, monkey, key, automobile, bullock cart brands and various varieties to name a few. 

These labels now bear witness to the legacy of a business conglomerate, the Adamjee Group and the man himself for his contribution in the early formative days of Pakistan as a country. A successful entrepreneur extraordinaire, Sir Adamjee is remembered as a person who helped fund the newly created Pakistan by providing “a blank cheque” secured by his personal assets during Pakistan’s critical formative years.

This is a tribute towards a personality who not only made a name in match trading and match manufacturing in Asia but also towards humanity, industrialization and social development. Sir Adamjee, a commoner turned national hero born out of a match industry.

Notes & References:

* denotes estimated years.
All information is duly obtained from exhibitor’s personal reading of related information referred to and obtained from :
I) “Colonial Burma, history and phillumeny” by Andrew Selth, 24thMay, 2016 published in the New Mandala, (www.mandala.org)
ii) “The Merchant Knight – Adamjee Haji Dawood”, by Daleara Jamasji-Hirjikaka & Yasmin Qureshi, Adamjee Foundation, 2004.
iii) “Adamjee Haji Dawood” on wikipedia.com

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