Explore our interactive timeline to learn more about the history of Brown-Forman, and the people, brands, and events that have shaped our company.
Founding of the Company
With $5,500 in saved and borrowed money, George Garvin Brown, a young pharmaceuticals salesman in Louisville, Kentucky, starts J.T.S. Brown and Bro. with his half-brother. They sell whisky in sealed glass bottles to assure its quality, an innovative approach at a time when whisky is commonly sold by the barrel. Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky is the flagship brand.
After several name changes and the dissolution of the original partnership, George Garvin enters in a partnership with George Forman, his accountant and friend, and Brown-Forman is created.
The firm’s name is changed to Brown-Forman and Company to reflect the partnership. Business, despite the growing prohibitionist movement in America, booms.
George Forman dies, and Brown purchases his stock in the company. Brown-Forman is incorporated shortly afterward.
Owsley Brown, George Garvin Brown’s son, makes a pivotal decision to come into the business, beginning a tradition of family apprenticeship that continues to this day.
George Garvin Brown dies at the age of 70. His son, Owsley, takes the helm as president of Brown-Forman.
& the War Years
The Prohibition Amendment is adopted. Owsley Brown applies for and receives a license to bottle whisky for medicinal purposes.
Brown-Forman makes its first acquisition, Early Times. Owsley Brown ensures Brown-Forman’s whisky supply through the lean years of prohibition by buying the entire stock of Early Times and moving it to the company’s government-designated warehouse in Louisville.
With Prohibition headed for repeal, Owsley Brown and several other prominent figures in the industry organize what later becomes the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), the trade organization instrumental in educating the public on the responsible use of beverage alcohol.
October also sees Brown-Forman’s first public stock issue, which provides a capital base that allows the company to re-enter the American market with strength after the Depression and Prohibition.
Brown-Forman correctly anticipates the outbreak of World War II and, within days of Pearl Harbor, begins producing industrial alcohol for the war effort at a converted Old Forester plant. The company also purchases the Labrot & Graham Distillery, originally founded in 1812 by bourbon-making pioneer Elijah Pepper.
Acquisitions & Growth -
Jack Daniel’s, Southern Comfort…
W. L. Lyons Brown becomes chairman of the board, following the retirement of his father, Owsley Brown. George Garvin Brown takes W. L. Lyons’ position as president.
Early Times becomes the number one bourbon in the country.
This year is marked by major acquisitions for Brown-Forman, with the purchase of the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, and Jos. Garneau Co., Inc., a century-old New York import house.
As of June 1, 1957, Brown-Forman acquired the exclusive franchise to produce and sell Bols liqueurs.
The company records net sales of more than $100 million for the first time.
Brown-Forman acquires the distribution rights to Korbel California Champagnes and Brandies.
W. L. Lyons Brown retires as chairman of Brown-Forman, though he retains his position as chairman of Jack Daniel’s. George Garvin Brown becomes chairman of the board. Dan L. Street becomes the first non-Brown family member to become president. Old Bushmills Irish Whiskey and Pepe Lopez Tequila become the two newest additions to Brown-Forman’s product line.
The company moves its corporate headquarters to 850 Dixie Highway, Louisville, Kentucky.
The import firm of Fontana-Hollywood becomes part of Brown-Forman; one of the few non food items that Fontana-Hollywood imported was Bolla Italian wines.
After the untimely death of George Garvin Brown, W. L. Lyons re-assumes the position of chairman of the board. William F. Lucas is elected president and CEO.
Brown-Forman celebrates its centennial, called the Double Golden. The company also publishes its corporate history, Nothing Better in the Market.
The company acquires Canadian Mist, located in Collingwood, Ontario, and the import rights to Noilly Prat, the world-famous French vermouths.
Robinson Brown, Jr. is elected chairman of the board after the retirement of W. L. Lyons Brown.
Brown-Forman purchases 40% interest in Bolla Italian Wines
W. L. Lyons Brown passes away on January 5. Brown-Forman sells its interest in the Labrot & Graham Distillery. The company eventually repurchases the distillery and begins an ambitious renovation to restore it to the original small- batch distilling process.
W. L. Lyons Brown, Jr. replaces William F. Lucas as Brown-Forman president and CEO.
The company acquires Southern Comfort, “The Grand Old Drink of the South.”
Diversification & Innovation
Robinson Brown, Jr. retires as chairman of the board on June 1.
Lenox, Incorporated becomes part of the Brown-Forman family of companies, bringing with it Lenox china, crystal and giftware, and the 125-year-old Hartmann Luggage Company.
W. L. Lyons Brown, Jr. is elected chairman of the board. Owsley Brown II is elected president.
Brown-Forman Beverage Company acquires the trademark and U.S. distribution rights for Fontana Candida Italian Wines, the world’s leading supplier of Frascati wines.
Brown-Forman Beverage Company launches Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey, the first new whiskey out of the Jack Daniel Distillery in more than 100 years.
Lenox, Incorporated celebrates its centennial.
Crouch & Fitzgerald, the oldest luggage store in the U.S., is acquired by Brown-Forman. Located at Madison Avenue and 48th Street in New York City, the store was established in 1839.
Brolio Wines, Italy’s premier producer of Chianti and the oldest winery in the world under continuous family control, chooses Brown-Forman as its exclusive U.S. sales and marketing agent.
Lenox, Incorporated acquires the Baltimore-based Kirk Stieff Company, the oldest manufacturer of silver and pewter products in the United States.
Brown-Forman Beverage Company creates a Wine Division to re-emphasize the company’s commitment to building its premium wine business. That commitment is underscored with the announcement in December of an agreement to acquire Jekel Vineyards. Earlier in the year, the Wine Division becomes the exclusive sales and marketing agent for Fontanafredda Wines of Italy.
Brown-Forman also acquires distribution rights to Glenmorangie Single Highland Malt Scotch, one of the world’s leading super-premium scotches.
Finally, Dansk International Designs and its subsidiary, Gorham, are key acquisitions in the consumer durables segment of Brown-Forman’s business.
Brown-Forman acquires its second winery, Fetzer Vineyards of Mendocino County, California. The alliance with Fetzer makes Brown-Forman the fifth-largest domestic wine marketer in the country.
The company also introduces the hugely successful Jack Daniel’s Country Cocktails.
Owsley Brown II becomes the corporation’s new CEO (he retains the position of president), succeeding his brother, W.L. Lyons Brown, Jr., who had been CEO for 18 years.
Carmen Vineyards Chilean Wines becomes part of the Beverage Company’s portfolio in April.
Brown-Forman increases its regular quarterly cash dividend by 4% in fiscal 1994, marking the 49th consecutive year in which the company paid regular dividends. Also, the company’s board of directors approve a three-for-one common stock split, which results in an annualized dividend of $.95 per share.
The company also reorganizes the Brown-Forman Beverage Company into Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide (BFBW), designed to expand beverage business throughout the world. William M. Street is appointed president and CEO of BFBW.
Owsley Brown II is elected chairman of the board. He retains the title Chairman and CEO.
Brown-Forman Corporation reaches an agreement with Jagatjit Industries, Limited, of India. Jagatjit Brown-Forman India Private, Ltd., headquartered in New Delhi, supplies the company’s beverage products to the Indian market and pursues opportunities to export beverages and consumer durables from India.
Brown-Forman creates a new drinks category with Tropical Freezes, the first blended freezer cocktails in the market. More than a million 9-liter cases of Tropical Freezes are sold during its first year of national distribution.
Brown-Forman establishes the Brown-Forman Wines International Company to expand the company’s wine business in global markets.
Blue Grass Cooperage, one of the World’s largest producers of whiskey barrels and a subsidiary of Brown-Forman, celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Brown-Forman becomes the exclusive U.S. importer of Finlandia Vodkas. The newly restored Labrot & Graham Distillery in Woodford County, Kentucky, located on the site of the first commercial distillery in the state, celebrates its grand reopening. Brown-Forman introduces Woodford Reserve Bourbon, the first new product from Labrot & Graham.
Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide Wine Group signs a joint venture agreement with Picard Pere et Fils, one of the top wine producers in the Burgundy region of France, to market Michel Picard wines in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the West Indies. Picard Pere et Fils was established in 1951.
Brown-Forman’s Korbel Champagne is named the “Official Champagne of the Millennium.”
Brown Forman introduces a new Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel whiskey, and Glen Moray Speyside, a premium single malt whisky from Glenmorangie.
The Brown family and Brown-Forman Corporation are presented with a National Preservation Honor Award from The National Trust for Historic Preservation. The company and family are honored for the restoration of the 150-year-old Labrot & Graham Distillery in Woodford County, Kentucky, contributions to the preservation of Shakertown at Pleasant Hill, a village built by Shakers in 1805, and for leadership in the renovation of the Cathedral of the Assumption in downtown Louisville.
Woodford Reserve is named the Official Bourbon of the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Thoroughbred Racing Championships.
Brown-Forman Corporation donates $1 million to the University of Louisville to finance a chair in entrepreneurship at the College of Business and Public Administration.
Leadership changes at Lenox, Inc. with the formation of a board of directors, appointment of its chairman, and selection of a new company president. Barry D. Bramley becomes chairman of the Lenox Board and Stanley E. Krangel, who was previously president of Lenox Collections, accepts the position of president of Lenox, Inc.
The company adds four new wine brands to its portfolio, Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards and Mariah Wines of California, and two Australian brands, McPherson Wines and Owen’s Estate Wines.
By mutual agreement, Brown-Forman’s relationship with Carmen Wines of Chile ends in December.
Brown-Forman signs an agreement with Tequila Orendain de Jalisco, S.A. de C.V. to be the worldwide marketing agent for Orendain’s premium tequila and liqueur brands. The first new products introduced are Don Eduardo ultra premium tequilas.
Brown-Forman also purchases an interest in Tuoni & Canepa Spa of Italy and becomes exclusive marketing agent for that company’s Tuaca Liqueur in the U.S. and other markets.
Brown-Forman reports record earnings and 10% earnings per share growth for the Fiscal 1999. The company also increased its quarterly cash dividend 5.1%, from 29.5 cents to 31 cents per share on Class A and Class B Common Stock. As a result, the indicated annual cash rise from $1.18 to $1.24 per share.
Brown-Forman announces plans for an $8 million restoration of the historic 626 West Main Street building (formerly known as the Bernheim Building) in downtown Louisville. The building is projected to be ready for occupancy in the first quarter of 2001.
American Spirit – Global Opportunity
For the first time in company history, sales exceed $2 billion.
Owsley Brown Frazier, great-grandson of George Garvin Brown, retires after 45 years of service to the company.
Southern Comfort changes its bottle for the first time in 65 years.
Brown-Forman acquires marketing and distribution rights for Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum.
Brown-Forman and Bacardi announce new U.S. partnership known as the “Gemini Alliance,” which will give each company greater strength in the marketplace.
Labrot & Graham Distillery’s name is changed to Woodford Reserve.
Fetzer Vineyards President Paul Dolan announces he will leave the famed Mendocino County, California winery and Brown-Forman Wines at the end of the company’s fiscal year. Dolan has spent the last 27 years in leadership positions at Fetzer.
Brown-Forman Corporation reaches an agreement with the Altia Corporation of Finland to acquire the remaining 20% of the capital stock of Finlandia Vodka Worldwide Ltd. Brown- Forman and Altia have jointly owned FVW since 2000.
Brown-Forman enters into new distribution agreements for its spirits brands in a number of European countries, including Italy, Spain, and Germany, one of the company’s largest markets. A distributor change is also made in Russia.
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Owsley Brown II announces that Brown-Forman has agreed to sell substantially all of Lenox, Incorporated to Department 56.
Brown-Forman Corporation reaches an agreement with Charles Jacquin et Cie, owner and producer of Chambord Liqueur, to purchase the Chambord brand and all related assets.
Board of Directors elects Sandra Frazier, Martin S. Brown, Jr., and Geo. Garvin Brown IV to become directors of the company. All three are descendants of George Garvin Brown, who founded Brown-Forman in 1870, and they are the first members of the family’s fifth generation to join the company’s board.
Brown-Forman completes its previously announced acquisition of all substantial assets of the Mexican tequila company, Casa Herradura.
Brown-Forman assumed full ownership of the Don Eduardo Tequila trademark.
Chief Executive Paul C. Varga was named to succeed Owsley Brown II as chairman of Brown- Forman Corporation, while Garvin Brown IV was named to the new position of presiding chairman of the company’s Board of Directors. Owsley Brown II retires from executive management but will continue to serve on the company’s Board of Directors. James S. Welch, Jr. and William E. Mitchell are elected to the Board of Directors, while long-time director Stephen E. O’Neil retired from the Board. Brown-Forman CFO Phoebe Wood was promoted to vice chairman of the corporation.
The company sells its Bolla and Fontana Candida Italian wine brands to Gruppo Italiano Vini.
Due to the worldwide economic downturn, the company cut 6% of its global workforce. Employees in Mexico, the United States, Europe and the Asia Pacific region were affected.
In January, the company pays out a dividend making this the 64th consecutive year Brown-Forman has issued a quarterly dividend.
The company announces that it will be establishing its own distribution company in Germany within the year. Brown-Forman will now have a fully-owned sales and marketing operation in Germany.
Brown-Forman decides to renew distribution agreements with Bacardi Limited so that each company can distribute the competitor’s products in a number of European countries. As per the agreements, Bacardi will distribute Brown-Forman brands in Belgium, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Portugal, and Andorra, and Brown-Forman will distribute Bacardi brands in the Czech Republic.
In June, Brown-Forman Corporation acquired the Maximus Vodka brand from Altia, Plc.
In September, Owsley Brown II, former chairman and CEO of Brown-Forman and well-known Louisville community leader, died after a brief illness. He was 69 years old.
In November, Joan C. Amble was elected to the company’s Board of Directors. Amble is the retired executive vice president, finance, of the American Express Company.
In December 2011, Brown-Forman Corporation received a perfect score of 100 points on the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) 2012 Corporate Equality Index (CEI) for the second consecutive year.
In June, Brown-Forman announced plans for a new cooperage to craft barrels in Decatur, Alabama, in order to meet growing worldwide demand for Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey.
In August, Owsley Brown Frazier, former vice chairman of Brown-Forman Corporation and well-known Louisville community philanthropist, died after a long illness. He was 77 years old.
In September, Brown-Forman confirmed that it reached agreement in principle with the Asahi Group to distribute its brands in Japan as of January 1, 2013.
In November, Brown-Forman Corporation received a perfect score of 100 points on the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) 2013 Corporate Equality Index (CEI) for the third consecutive year, earning the coveted distinction of “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality.”
In January, Brown-Forman announced that it is establishing its own distribution company in France, effective January 1, 2014.
In March, Brown-Forman Australia announced that it has been appointed the exclusive distribution rights to Jägermeister, effective July 1, 2013.
Jägermeister has become a leading liqueur brand in Australia since it was introduced eleven years ago, transcending pop culture and building legions of loyal consumers.
In June, Brown-Forman Corporation announced that it intends to expand the Woodford Reserve Distillery to meet expected growing global demand for its super premium Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon.
In September, Brown-Forman announced that it will establish a new head office for its European operations in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, effective January 1, 2014.
In October, Brown-Forman announced the restructuring of its Asia Pacific (APAC) region into two new regions, effective November 1, 2013. The existing Asia Pacific region will be restructured into the Australia, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia region (ANZSEA) and the North Asia region (NA).
In November, Brown-Forman Corporation announced that Chief Financial Officer Don Berg is retiring from the company at the end of the current fiscal year, April 30, 2014.
In December, Brown-Forman Corporation received a perfect score of 100 percent on the 2014 Corporate Equality Index (CEI), a national benchmarking survey and report on corporate policies and practices related to LGBT workplace equality, administered by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. This is the fourth consecutive year Brown-Forman has received a perfect score.
In February, Brown-Forman Corporation announced that Michael J. Roney has been elected to the company’s Board of Directors.
In March, Woodford Reserve officially opened its visitor center at the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Kentucky, after completing a renovation project. Paul Varga, CEO of Brown-Forman, was joined by Governor Steve Beshear at the official opening of the renovated visitor center. This $1.9 million renovation includes the addition of a tasting room, improvements to the retail space and aesthetic enhancements.
A new Brown-Forman European operations head office opens in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Jane Morreau is named Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer, as previous CFO Don Berg retires from the company.
Brown-Forman establishes its own distribution company in France.
Michael J. Roney and Michael Todman elected to the company’s Board of Directors.
Woodford Reserve officially re-opens its visitor center in Versailles, Kentucky, after completing a renovation project. The $1.9 million renovation includes the addition of a tasting room, improvements to the retail space, and aesthetic enhancements.
Brown-Forman Corporation’s CEO and Board Chairman receive with the 2014 Family Enterprise Leadership award by Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management, Center for Family Enterprise.
Brown-Forman announces that it will open the Old Forester Distillery in two historic buildings on West Main Street in Louisville, KY. The Old Forester Distillery will include fermentation, distilling, barrel making, filling and dumping, and bottling.
Brown-Forman purchases all shares of Slane Castle Irish Whiskey Limited. The company will invest approximately $50 million to build a new distillery and consumer experience on the historic Slane Castle Estate in County Meath, Ireland.
Brown family reaffirms commitment to company with the election of two fifth generation family members to the Brown-Forman Board of Directors, Stuart R. Brown and August Brown Holland. Dace Brown Stubbs, the last member of the family’s fourth generation to serve on the board, elected not to stand for re-election after sixteen years of service as a director.
The company purchases a new stave mill in Spencer, Indiana, to support the company’s increased barrel production.
Jack Daniel Distillery announces the U.S. nationwide release of its red-hot cinnamon spirit, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire.
Brown-Forman pays a regular quarterly cash dividend for 69 consecutive years and has increased the dividend for 31 consecutive years.
Casa Herradura in Jalisco, Mexico, receives the 2015 Environmental Excellence Award from Mexico’s Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection, recognizing its clean technology, environmental awareness and continuous improvement programs, and sustainability targets for water and greenhouse gas emissions.
Brown-Forman reaches an agreement to sell its Southern Comfort and Tuaca trademarks to Sazerac.
The company is identified as a global leader for its response to climate change and is awarded a position on The Climate “A” List by CDP, an international not-for-profit. The ranking recognizes the company’s actions to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change.
Jack Daniel’s celebrates the 150th anniversary of America’s oldest registered distillery, the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee.
The Jack Daniel Distillery releases Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Rye, the brand’s third offering within the Single Barrel Collection and first new grain bill in 100 years, in the U.S.
Founded in 1945 and with its first barrel made in 1946, the Brown-Forman Cooperage celebrates 70 years of barrel-making excellence. Brown-Forman is the only major spirits company to own and operate a new whiskey barrel-making facility, making more than 2,500 barrels per day.
Brown-Forman announces expansion plans for the Jack Daniel Distillery. The $140 million investment will be used to construct two new barrelhouses as well as modify
and expand the existing bottling facility to provide additional bottling and shipping capacity to meet future demand.
Brown-Forman pays regular quarterly cash dividend for 70th consecutive year, increasing the dividend for 32 consecutive years.
Brown-Forman reaches an agreement to purchase The BenRiach Distillery Company Limited, bringing three Single Malt Scotch Whisky brands into the company’s portfolio: The GlenDronach, BenRiach, and Glenglassaugh. The purchase includes brand trademarks, three malt distilleries, a bottling plant, and a headquarters in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Coopers’ Craft launches in summer, the first new bourbon brand for the company in more than twenty years.
Brown-Forman holds official ground breaking ceremony for Slane Distillery, the company’s initial entry into distilling Irish whiskey. Slane Distillery is the first distillery built by Brown-Forman outside of the United States.