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Seagram Company Ltd.
Industry Beverages
Fate Broken-up into Pernod Ricard and Diageo, entertainment assets sold to Vivendi, food and beverage assets sold to The Coca-Cola Company
Successor Vivendi
Pernod Ricard
Universal Studios
Universal Music Group
The Coca-Cola Company
Founded 1857; 161 years ago (1857)
Defunct 2000; 18 years ago (2000)
Headquarters Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Number of locations
Key people
Joseph E. Seagram
Bronfman family
Products Alcoholic beverages, Ginger ale, Tonic water, Club soda
Subsidiaries PolyGram
Universal Studios
Website archived[1]

Seagram Company Ltd. (formerly traded as Seagram's) was a Canadian multinational conglomerate formerly headquartered in Montreal, Quebec. Originally a distiller of Canadian whisky based in Waterloo, Ontario, it was the largest owner of alcoholic beverage lines in the world at the height of the 1990s.

Toward the end of its independent existence, it also controlled various entertainment and other business ventures, with its purchase of MCA Inc., whose assets included Universal Studios 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 various 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 was Seagram was sold to French conglomerate Vivendi in 2000.

Seagrams House, the former Seagrams headquarters in Montreal, was donated to McGill University by Vivendi Universal in 2002, then renamed Martlet House.[2] The iconic Seagram Building, once the company's American headquarters in New York City, was commissioned by Phyllis Lambert, daughter of Seagram CEO Samuel Bronfman, and 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, and has been featured in several Hollywood films. On completion, the innovative and luxuriously appointed 38-story tower's construction costs made it the world's most expensive skyscraper.[3] The Bronfman family sold the Seagram building to the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association for $70.5 million in 1979.[4]

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • Mies van der Rohe, Seagram Building


(upbeat piano music) Mail voiceover: I'm with Matthew Postal who was an architectural historian. We're on Park Avenue at 53rd Street and we're standing in front of one of the most important buildings in the history of architecture in the United States. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's, The Seagram Building. Male voiceover: It's built between '56 and '58. Male voiceover: Can you give me a quick overview of why this is so important? Male voiceover: It's important on a lot of levels. Mies has been designing buildings of this kind since the 1920s, but he never had a chance to build an office building. It's the first opportunity to see his ideas. Male voiceover: There was a lot that intervened. Mies was developing his ideas first on paper in the late teens, then in the '20s as you said. Then, you have the revolution in Germany, you have the war, the end of the depression. Male voiceover: He moves to the United States, he designs the campus of the Armour Institute. Male voiceover: Then, he has this commission, Seagram Building. Seagram was a Canadian company, it's a liquor company. Perhaps, the worlds largest liquor company at that time. I think they did really well because of prohibition, if I remember correctly. Male voiceover: Because they're based in Canada. Male voiceover: Because they're based in Canada and all of that liquor could be smuggled down to Chicago, across the Great Lakes. Then, one of them had their headquarters in New York. How did this come to be? Male voiceover: The background of the Seagram building is, that they decided to build a headquarters in the mid '50s. They looked across the street. They were impressed by all the notoriety that Lever House had garnered. Male voiceover: Which was that first real modern icon to show off on Park Avenue. Male voiceover: First curtain wall building in Manhattan. Male voiceover: Okay. Male voiceover: Charles Luckman, who had been one of the chief executive officer at Lever, had been trained as an architect and had left Lever to open his own firm. Male voiceover: Did Bronfman, who ran Seagrams, turn to Luckman then? How did that ... Male voiceover: He hires Luckman and Luckman gets way past the preliminary drawings. There's a large model. The model is sitting in his office when his daughter comes to visit, Phyllis Lambert. Male voiceover: What did she have to do with it? Male voiceover: She was studying at Harvard, in the graduate school of architecture and design. She said, "Dad, that's the most awful thing I've ever seen." Male voiceover: (laughs) I hope Luckman's not listening. What does she do? Male voiceover: She says, "Dad, we're going to go over to the Museum of Modern Art" "and you're going to speak to Arthur Drexler," "the chief curator of architecture." Male voiceover: MoMA is only a few blocks down the street, on 53rd as well, so this was not a long stroll. What did Drexler tell Bronfman? Male voiceover: Drexler said there were three choices. There was Le Corbusier. Male voiceover: The French architect. Male voiceover: Right. Too difficult to work with, he said. Male voiceover: Okay. Male voiceover: There was Frank Llyod Wright. Male voiceover: The obvious choice, the American. Male voiceover: But, too old. Male voiceover: Ahh. Male voiceover: He was almost 90 years old. Male voiceover: He suggested that they go with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Male voiceover: That's what they did. What has Mies done here? Male voiceover: He's built a relatively simple form, a bronze clad slab of a tower. Male voiceover: Hold on a second. It's bronze? Male voiceover: It is bronze. Male voiceover: Sculptures are made out of bronze. Male voiceover: That's why I always say that this is not only one of the modern icons of architecture in New York, but it's also one of the most classical buildings in the city. Male voiceover: That's interesting. You're thinking classicism in terms of the ancient Greeks creating sculptures. This is a building that actually has a patina like a sculpture would. It's not just a uniform dark brown black. It's actually got some subtlety to the color in really an enormously sophisticated way. Male voiceover: It's a little darker than it originally was, but imagine that each year, at least once a year, they rub it with oil, so that it does not oxidize. Male voiceover: Oh, that's great. So that it doesn't turn green or red or what have you. Male voiceover: Yes. Male voiceover: Any of the chemical reactions that the bronze might have. Male voiceover: Mies really loved Greek architecture over all other things, so he designed a building that is very symmetrical, it's a very disciplined aesthetic. If you look at the various pillars that run across the front, they look vaguely like fluted columns. Male voiceover: That's really interesting, because they do have these vertical striation, so it a kind of fluting. In fact, the whole building is up on this platform. It's almost like a Greek style, as if we were looking at the Parthenon. Male voiceover: Absolutely. Male voiceover: There's a sense of proportion here that feels very classical and it's incredible to be able to say that despite the buildings height, because this is a big building. The Greeks were working on a much smaller scale. The Romans were working on a slightly larger scale, but nothing like this. Male voiceover: That's the challenge. How do you distill the lessons of the ancients in a building that's made of metal and glass. Male voiceover: Is that even an absurd project, to try to take an industrial culture and an industrial material and wed it somehow to buildings that are 2,500 years old? Male voiceover: Mies would say, "No." Male voiceover: Why is that legitimate? Male voiceover: Because I think that the modern movement in architecture was always looking for some discipline. It was always looking to balance old and new. This was one of the solutions that he found. Male voiceover: Let's take a look at the building. It's very clean. When you look up at it from below, it just soars. The term that comes to mind is vertical velocity. Male voiceover: LIke an ascent. Male voiceover: We just rocket upward, visually. How is he pulling that off? Male voiceover: Look carefully at the vertical mullions that are between the window bays. They basically rise without interruption from the base of the tower to the top. Male voiceover: I'm looking at those now and they're not simple mullions, they look like I-beams. They have girders. Male voiceover: Right. Male voiceover: What's going on? Male voiceover: They serve no purpose other than decoration. Male voiceover: Decoratively, they make the surface so that it's not flat, they give it some texture. Male voiceover: A little depth. Male voiceover: They give it a little depth. It gives it a bit of a play of light as well, and shadow. Male voiceover: I think that when the building was constructed, they talked about industrial material and honesty and those kinds of issues, but as time has passed, they recognized that it wasn't beyond Mies to experiment with a little bit of decoration. Male voiceover: It's decorative, but it's a kind of decorative symbolism, isn't it, because the I-beam is the thing that's actually holding the building up? These are de-purposed, if that makes sense. Male voiceover: Not these I-beams. Male voiceover: Right, not these I-beams. Male voiceover: That's right. Male voiceover: They're reflecting what's inside the building, the actual interior structure. Male voiceover: Yeah, on a smaller scale. Male voiceover: I assume that the inside, they're actually steel, they're not bronze. Male voiceover: Right, and you would never want to see them. They would be kind of unattractive. Male voiceover: Mies has got these I-beams and they really do raise us upward. They do function then, in a decorative sense. Of course, we were talking about the classical a moment ago and the Parthenon for instance, was heavily decorated, so there's no prohibition there, but it does seem to be a little bit anathema to the way that we generally think of Mies van der Rohe or we think of the modern movement as really wanting to strip away the unnecessary and the decorative. Yet, he's allowing for it. Male voiceover: I think it's a stereotype about modernism, to think that it's without any decoration. Male voiceover: Because there is actually gorgeous use of not only the bronze exterior, but the mosaics, marble, granite and you've got these beautiful reflecting pools in front of the building. Male voiceover: Based on this kind of square-foot budget, this is one of the most expensive buildings of it's time. Male voiceover: Because it's not using it's entire ... Male voiceover: It's not using the entire lot, but no, because of the materials. Bronze cost a great deal more than aluminum. Male voiceover: It's a fortune. It's mostly copper. Male voiceover: Look at the travertine that the elevator banks are wrapped in. Male voiceover: You know what I find really interesting? When you look at those elevator banks, - and what, there are four of them - they actually move past the glass membrane that encloses the lobby. The glass is like a soap bubble and they've pushed through it. Male voiceover: I think they give the building real solidity. Male voiceover: That's what visually holds it up. Male voiceover: Yeah, and also it makes reference back to the ancient Romans. Male voiceover: How so? Male voiceover: Because that's Roman travertine. Male voiceover: Oh, it's travertine. Of course. Right. Male voiceover: Though again, Mies is constantly referencing antiquity. Male voiceover: You had mentioned, just a moment ago, this forecourt. The building is really not using much of it's footprint. The building is really deeply set back on Park Avenue. Male voiceover: Yeah, about as far back as it could. Although, it has a couple of smaller editions in the back. When Mies was asked why did he set the building back so far, he said that he wanted to pay respect to the Racquet and Tennis Club directly across the street, that he did not want to overwhelm that great Italian Palazzo by McKim, Mead and White. Male voiceover: It's actually one of the great buildings in New York. This is quite an intersection. You have Lever House, Tennis and Racquet and you've got Seagram. That's a hell of a triumvirate. Male voiceover: I think he wanted to create a corridor for his building to be viewed. I think by coming up those steps at the end of the Palazzo and looking up at the building, it provides an architectural experience that people don't often have in New York. Male voiceover: There's something else here, maybe it's a classical element as well, it feels like this is a public space, a place where people gather. In fact, as we're here, there are people who walk and stop and talk, there were people sitting by the reflecting pools. It becomes a kind of social space. Is that something that Mies was interested in? Male voiceover: You know, I think if you look at it critically, he kept the seating at the edge to a minimum. There never appears to have been any attempt to encourage people to stay here. Male voiceover: That's an interesting issue. One of the faults that is found with modernism is it's antiseptic quality, is it's coldness, it's lack of humanity in human scale. Do you think that Mies has created something that allows us to occupy it comfortably, or is this something that is alienating in some way? Male voiceover: I think it depends where you come from. (upbeat piano music)



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.[5] 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.[6][7]

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.[8][9]

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.)[10]

Original Seagram Distillery buildings in Waterloo, now converted to residential condominiums
Original Seagram Distillery buildings in Waterloo, now converted to residential condominiums

After the death of Samuel Bronfman in 1971, Edgar M. Bronfman was named Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) until June 1994 when his son, Edgar Bronfman Jr., was appointed CEO.[11]

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.[12]

Truck advertising the Seagram's Escapes brand of ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages
Truck advertising the Seagram's Escapes brand of ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages

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.[13]

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.[14] 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.”[15]

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.[16][17]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ [DESJARDINS, SYLVAIN-JACQUES (2004-04-25). "Seagram Building reborn as Martlet House". McGill Reporter. Retrieved 2009-02-07. 
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Canadian Whiskey: The Portable Expert by Davin de Kergommeaux ISBN 9780771027451 [1]
  6. ^ Daniel Okrent, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (2010; Simon & Schuster) ISBN 978-0-7432-7702-0 [2]
  7. ^ “From Shirtsleeves to Shirtless”: The Bronfman Dynasty and the Seagram Empire by Graham D. Taylor; Business History Conference, 2006 [3]
  8. ^ 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
  9. ^ Daniel Okrent, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition pp.146-158 (2010; Simon & Schuster) ISBN 978-0-7432-7702-0
  10. ^ Bronfman fortune based on ... well ... bootlegging Ottawa Citizen August 19, 1975 [4]
  11. ^ Edgar M. Bronfman, "Good Spirits: The Making of a Businessman" (1998) ISBN 0399143742
  12. ^ Interview with Bruce Willis, page 65, Playboy Magazine, November 1988
  13. ^ "Pernod Ricard and Diageo Sell Seagram's Mixers to The Coca-Cola Company. Business Wire May 7, 2002". Retrieved 2010-12-29. 
  14. ^ MGP Ingredients Inc. to Purchase Lawrenceburg, Indiana Distillery Assets, company press release, Oct. 21, 2011.
  15. ^ 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. 
  16. ^ "Construction continues on the Balsillie Campus" July 2, 2010
  17. ^ Mercer, Greg (January 8, 2009). "New Balsillie School will be 'functional, not fancy', The Record, January 8, 2009". Kitchener Record. Retrieved 2009-08-10. 
  • Faith, Nicholas. The Bronfmans: The Rise and Fall of the House of Seagram, 2006. ISBN 0-312-33219-X

External links

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