The story of kretek begins in the city of Kudus, Central Java, Indonesia. it was here in the 1880 that Haji Jamhari, a local resident, first invented the kretek cigarette, mixing locally-grown cloves with tobacco to invent a cigarette to ease his chest pains.
This fortuitous discovery was taken a step further by M. Nitisemito, another sawy Kudus resident who, seeing an opportunity, took it upon himself to market and begin mass-producing the unique new cigarette. In doing so, he created what would eventually become an enormous industry with a worldwide reach. Such is the scale of the kretek industry today that 95 percent of the world supply of cloves goes to kretek manufacturing. Sadly, Nitisemito's company, Bal Tiga, is long gone, but a road bearing his name still exists in Kudus, testimony to his legacy.
Today, Kudus continues to occupy a focal point on the kretek landscape, maintaining its tradition of kretek manufacturing. Of an estimated 600 kretek manufacturers in Indonesia, the majority are based in Kudus. Djarum alone employs some 60,000 people in the city.
Home to the only kretek museum in Indonesia, Kudus, whose name derives from the Arabic word, al-Quds, meaning 'holy,' also happens to be a Moslem site of pilgrimage. Each year thousands of visitors flock to the sacred Menara Kudus (Kudus Tower), a Kudus landmark which is associated with the Nine Saints (Wali Songo) responsible for bringing Islam to Java.