Joe Camel was conceived in the 1950s by Billy Coulton, art director on Long Island working on a T-shirt promotion for the brand in Europe. The R. J. Reynolds U.S. marketing team, looking for an idea to promote Camel's 75th anniversary, re-discovered Joe in the company's archives in the late 1980s.

Quote from the New York Times:"Joe Camel was actually born in Europe. The caricatured camel was created in 1974 by a British artist, Nicholas Price, for a French advertising campaign that subsequently ran in other countries in the 1970's. Indeed, Mr. O'Toole recalled a visit to France many years ago during which he glimpsed Joe Camel wearing a Foreign Legion cap. The inspiration behind Mr. Price's cartoon was the camel, named Old Joe, that has appeared on all Camel packages since the brand's initial appearance in 1913.

Joe Camel first appeared in the U.S. in 1988, in materials created for the 75th anniversary of the Camel brand by Trone Advertising. Trone is a mid-size agency in Greensboro, N.C., that Reynolds used on various advertising and promotional projects.