Founded by Pyotr Smirnov in 1864 under the trading name of PA Smirnoff, the company became the first to utilize newspaper ads along with charitable contributions to the clergy to stifle anti-vodka sermons, capturing two-thirds of the Moscow market by 1886. Smirnov was reportedly a Tsar’s favorite. When Pyotr died he was succeeded by his third son Vladimir Smirnov . The company flourished and produced more than 4 million cases of vodka per year. In 1904, the Tsar nationalized the Russian vodka industry and Vladimir Smirnov was forced to sell his factory and brand. During the October Revolution of 1917, the Smirnov family had to flee the country. Vladimir Smirnov re-established a factory in 1920 in Constantinople. Four years later he moved to Lwów (formerly Poland, now Lviv, Ukraine) and started to sell the vodka under the contemporary French spelling of the name, “Smirnoff”. The new product sold marginally well but not nearly as it had in Russia prior to 1904.
In the 1930s, Vladimir met Rudolph Kunett, a succesfull Russian businessman from New York City. The Kunett family had been a supplier of grains to Smirnov in Moscow before the Revolution. In 1933, Vladimir sold Kunett the right to begin producing Smirnoff vodka in North America. Unfortunately the business in America was not as successful as Kunett had hoped for. In 1938 Kunett could not afford to pay for the necessary sales licences, and contacted John Martin, president of Heublein. Martin bought the rights to Smirnoff in 1939.
In 1982, the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company acquired Heublein Inc. for $1.4 billion. RJR Nabisco sold the division to Grand Metropolitan in 1987. Grand Metropolitan merged with Guinness to form Diageo in 1997.