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Seagram (legal name Seagram Company Ltd.) was a large corporation formerly headquartered in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Originally a Waterloo, Ontario based distiller of Canadian whisky, at its height in the 1990s it was a diversified multinational that was the largest owner of alcoholic beverage lines in the world. Toward the end of its independent existence it also controlled various entertainment and other business ventures, including purchasing music giant MCA, whose assets included Universal Pictures and its theme parks, financed through the sale of Seagram's highly lucrative 25% holding of chemical leader DuPont, a position it acquired in 1981. Following this the company imploded, with its beverage assets wholesaled off to industry titans, notably The Coca-Cola Company, Diageo, and Pernod Ricard. Universal's television holdings were sold off to media entrepreneur Barry Diller, and the balance of the Universal entertainment empire and what had been Seagram to French beverage conglomerate Vivendi in 2000.
|Fate||Broken-up into Pernod Ricard and Diageo, entertainment assets sold to Vivendi, food and beverage assets sold to The Coca-Cola Company|
Universal Music Group
The Coca-Cola Company
|Headquarters||Rochester, New York, United States|
Number of locations
|Joseph E. Seagram
|Products||Alcoholic beverages, Ginger ale, Tonic water, Club soda|
The iconic Seagram Building, once the company's American headquarters office tower at 375 Park Avenue in New York City, was designed by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe with Philip Johnson. Regarded as one of the most notable examples of the functionalist aesthetic and a prominent instance of corporate modern architecture, it set the trend for the city's skyline for decades to follow. On completion, the innovative and luxuriously appointed 38 story tower's construction costs made it the world's most expensive skyscraper at the time. It was sold to the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association for $70.5 million in 1979.
In 1857, a distillery was founded in Waterloo, Ontario Canada. Joseph E. Seagram became a partner in 1869 and sole owner in 1883, and the company became known as Joseph E. Seagram & Sons. Many decades later, in 1924, Samuel Bronfman and his brothers founded Distillers Corporation Limited, in Montreal, which enjoyed substantial growth in the 1920s, in part due to Prohibition in the United States. (The Distillers Corporation Limited name was derived from a United Kingdom company called Distillers Company Limited, which controlled the leading brands of whisky in the UK, and which was doing business with the Bronfmans.)
In 1923, the Bronfmans purchased the Greenbrier Distillery in the United States, dismantled it, shipped it to Canada, and reassembled it in LaSalle, Quebec. The Bronfmans shipped liquor from Canada to the French-controlled overseas collectivity Saint Pierre and Miquelon off the then-Dominion of Newfoundland, which was then shipped by bootleggers to Rum rows in New York, New Jersey and other states.
In 1928, a few years after the death of Joseph E. Seagram (1919), the Distillers Corporation acquired Joseph E. Seagram & Sons from heir and President Edward F. Seagram; the merged company retained the Seagram name. The company was well prepared for the end of Prohibition in 1933 with an ample stock of aged whiskeys ready to sell to the newly opened American market, and it prospered accordingly.
Although he was never convicted of criminal activity, Samuel Bronfman's dealings with bootleggers during the Prohibition-era in the US have been researched by various historians and are documented in various peer-vetted chronicles.
In the 1930s, when Seagram set up business in the United States, it paid a fine of $1.5 million to the US government to settle delinquent excise taxes on liquor illegally exported to the US during Prohibition. (The US government had originally asked for $60 million.)
From the 1950s, most of the family holdings of Distillers-Seagram was held through holding company Cemp Investments, which was owned by the four children of Samuel Bronfman. The three most popular Seagram distilled products in the 60's-90's were Seven Crown, VO, and Crown Royal.
In 1981, cash-rich and wanting to diversify, the U.S.-based subsidiary Seagram Company Ltd. engineered a takeover of Conoco Inc., a major American oil and gas producing company. Although Seagram acquired a 32.2% stake in Conoco, DuPont was brought in as a white knight by the oil company and entered the bidding war. In the end, Seagram lost out in the Conoco bidding war, though in exchange for its stake in Conoco Inc., it became a 24.3% owner of DuPont. By 1995, Seagram was DuPont's largest single shareholder with four seats on the board of directors.
In 1986, the company started a memorable TV commercial campaign advertising its Golden wine cooler products. With rising star Bruce Willis as pitchman, Seagram rose from fifth place among distillers to first in just two years.
In 1987, Seagram engineered a $1.2 billion takeover of French cognac maker Martell & Cie.
In 1995, Edgar Bronfman Jr. was eager to get into the film and electronic media business. On April 6, 1995, after being approached by Bronfman, Jr., DuPont announced a deal whereby the company would buy back its shares from the Seagram company for $9 billion. Seagram was heavily criticized by the investment community—the 24.3% stake in DuPont accounted for 70% of Seagram's earnings. Standard & Poor's took the unusual step of stating that the sale of the DuPont interest could result in a downgrade of Seagram's more than $4.2 billion of long-term debt. Bronfman, Jr., used the proceeds of the sale to acquire controlling interest in MCA, whose assets included Universal Pictures and its theme parks. Later, Seagram purchased PolyGram and Deutsche Grammophon.
In 2000, Edgar Bronfman Jr. sold controlling interest in Seagram's entertainment division to Vivendi, and the beverage division to Pernod Ricard and Diageo. By the time Vivendi began auctioning off Seagram's beverages business, the once-renowned operation consisted of around two hundred and fifty drink brands and brand extensions, in addition to its original high-profile brand names.
In 2002, The Coca-Cola Company acquired the line of Seagram's mixers (ginger ale, tonic water, club soda and seltzer water) from Pernod Ricard and Diageo, as well as signing a long-term agreement to use the Seagram name from Pernod Ricard.
On April 19, 2006, Pernod Ricard announced that they would be closing the former Seagram distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. However, the distillery was instead sold in 2007 to CL Financial, a holding company based in Trinidad and Tobago which then collapsed and required government intervention. They operated the distillery as Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana. In December 2011, the distillery was purchased by MGP Ingredients, headquartered in Atchison, Kansas. It is now known as MGP of Indiana, and continues to be the source of the components of Seagram's Seven Crown, now owned by Diageo.
In a 2013 interview with The Globe and Mail, Charles Bronfman (uncle of Bronfman Jr.) stated that the decisions leading to the demise of Seagram “was a disaster, it is a disaster, it will be a disaster...It was a family tragedy.”
In 1997, the Seagram Museum, formerly the original Seagram distillery in Waterloo, Ontario, was forced to close due to lack of funds. The building is now the home of the Centre for International Governance Innovation as well as Shopify. The two original barrel houses are now the Seagram Lofts condominiums. There were almost 5 acres (2.0 ha) of open land, upon which the Balsillie School of International Affairs was subsequently built; construction began in 2009, and was completed in 2010.
- Canadian Whiskey: The Portable Expert by Davin de Kergommeaux ISBN 9780771027451 
- Daniel Okrent, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (2010; Simon & Schuster) ISBN 978-0-7432-7702-0 
- “From Shirtsleeves to Shirtless”: The Bronfman Dynasty and the Seagram Empire by Graham D. Taylor; Business History Conference, 2006 
- Peter C. Newman, Bronfman Dynasty: The Rothschilds of the New World (1978; U.S. title: King of the Castle: The Making of a Dynasty) ISBN 0-7710-6758-5
- Daniel Okrent, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition pp.146-158 (2010; Simon & Schuster) ISBN 978-0-7432-7702-0
- Bronfman fortune based on ... well ... bootlegging Ottawa Citizen August 19, 1975 
- Edgar M. Bronfman, "Good Spirits: The Making of a Businessman" (1998) ISBN 0399143742
- "Pernod Ricard and Diageo Sell Seagram's Mixers to The Coca-Cola Company. Business Wire May 7, 2002". Retrieved 2010-12-29.
- MGP Ingredients Inc. to Purchase Lawrenceburg, Indiana Distillery Assets, company press release, Oct. 21, 2011.
- Slater, Joanna (5 April 2013). "Charles Bronfman opens up about Seagram's demise: 'It is a disaster'". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2013-04-08.
- "Construction continues on the Balsillie Campus" July 2, 2010 http://cigicampus.cigionline.org/tag/bsia/
- Mercer, Greg (January 8, 2009). "New Balsillie School will be 'functional, not fancy', The Record, January 8, 2009". Kitchener Record. Retrieved 2009-08-10.
- Seagram Museum Collection RG 490 Brock University Library Digital Repository