The History of the Distillers Company, 1877-1939: Diversification and Growth in Whisky and Chemicals

The History of the Distillers Company, 1877-1939: Diversification and Growth in Whisky and Chemicals

The History of the Distillers Company, 1877-1939: Diversification and Growth in Whisky and Chemicals

The History of the Distillers Company, 1877-1939: Diversification and Growth in Whisky and Chemicals

Synopsis

The Distillers Company (DCL) existed from 1877 until 1986 when it was acquired by Guinness. This book covers DCL's history from its founding as the merger of six firms to its position as one of Britain's largest manufacturing companies with diversified interests around the world. It is an extraordinary story of growth, acquisition, and diversification. By the 1920s DCL dominated the whisky industry in Scotland eventually acquiring the then big three blending firms - James Buchanan, John Dewar, and John Walker. With unfettered access to company records Dr Weir has been able to piece together the story of the company that was once described as concealing its activities behind a `tartan curtain'. He traces the role of key individuals like William ross; its lobbying and campaigning activities against drink controls; its international marketing in North America, where its partners included Joseph Kennedy; and its later diversification into industrial alcohol, fuel alcohol, and chemicals to meet the demands of the growing science-based industries. This book is the first full-length study of DCL based on the company's own archives and will appeal to a wide range of readers - those interested in the history of whisky and the Scottish distilleries; economic and business historians concerned with the growth of major corporations; and management analysts studying the processes of growth, diversification, entrepreneurship, and R&D that are the necessary ingredients of the sustained growth of successful companies.

Excerpt

This volume has been written under unusual circumstances. Unlike many business histories, it was not commissioned or sponsored and is not an official history of the Distillers Company. Indeed, the company which forms the subject of the book no longer has an independent existence, having been acquired by Guinness plc in 1986. The registered name, the Distillers Company, continues but what remains of the Distillers Company has a new and very different organizational form in United Distillers, the spirits division of Guinness plc. Nor is even the first history of the Distillers Company. Two previous histories exist, one written in the 1920s by W. H. Ross, DCL's chairman, the other in the late 1950s by J. F. Dempster, DCL's assistant-secretary. Both were designed for an internal audience, readers of the house magazine, The DCL Gazette. It is, however, the first study by an outsider and based on access to DCL's archives for the period 1877 to 1939.

The book is one result of a project which originated in the spring of 1967 when I discussed the suitability of the distilling industry as a subject for a doctoral thesis with Berrick Saul, then Professor of Economic History at the University of Edinburgh. His judgement, characteristically instantaneous--and correct--was that it was well worth tackling but only if access could be obtained to the records of the Distillers Company. DCL had dominated the Scotch whisky industry for at least forty years., and a study which omitted DCL would be a thin one indeed. The problem was that Distillers had a reputation, at least among journalists, for being secretive, insular, and arrogant (and these were some of the milder adjectives used by the press). Fortunately, neither Berrick Saul nor my other supervisor, Christopher Smout, took the reputation at face value. Instead, with the help of a lay member of the University Court who had business contacts at Distillers, they negotiated 'a gentlemen's agreement' with DCL's chairman and management committee. This gave access from 1877 until 1917, a terminal date which conformed with the fifty year rule then governing public records, but an insignificant date in DCL's history. An extension was later agreed to 1925, when DCL acquired Buchanan-Dewar and Walker; the records of the blending subsidiaries, the United Yeast Company, and the Methylating Company were also made available. DCL's participation was instrumental in obtaining access to what were then described as 'the independents', including Arthur Bell & Sons and the North British Distillery Company, as well as the industry's two trade associations, the Malt Distillers' Association and the Scotch Whisky Association. As it turned out, an unexpectedly large amount of material in public archives on the distilling industry in the eighteenth and nineteenth . . .

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