Molson Breweries

Men of brains and energy were attracted by the new Montreal as by a magnet. Here enters on its annals, in 1782, the name of Molson...

Montreal: Seaport and City
Stephen Leacock

Imagination, courage and extraordinary business acumen were dominant characteristics of John Molson, an 18-year-old English immigrant who arrived in Montreal on June 26, 1782. Quickly he became the eager partner of a former Lincolnshire neighbour in a small St. Lawrence riverfront brewing enterprise. Here Molson acquired
his practical knowledge in the art of brewing. On January 5, 1785, John Molson secured sole title to this 40foot property just outside the walled city of Montreal and became the first Molson of his direct line to engage in trade.

On July 28, 1786, the 22-year-old brewer recorded the purchase of eight bushels of barley, marking the formal launch of his small brewery. His entry into his record-book on that day, "Commencement on the Grand Stage of the World", indicates his excitement and confidence in this new venture. Molson's brewing operation had a weekly capacity of four hogsheads; the brewing season was 20 weeks long. The first year's output of his brewery was 80 hogsheads. "My beer has been universally well liked beyond my most sanguine expectations", he wrote.

In 1816, John Molson signed the first partnership agreement with his three sons, John Jr., Thomas and William, starting a tradition of active family involvement in the brewing enterprise which exists to this day. The Molson family also participated in a growing number of commercial, financial and civic enterprises including a lumberyard, theatre, and banking operation.

The founder also pioneered steam travel in Canada. In 1809, John Molson had launched the Accommodation, Canada's first steamboat, the first of 22 steamboats built and operated by the family. The family also participated extensively in the launch of Canada's first railroad, The Champlain & St. Lawrence. On January 7, 1836, John Molson died at 72 years of age, 50 years after the founding of his brewery. By 1840, the brewery, operating under the name of Thos. & Wm. Molson & Co., employed about twenty people. In 1859, direct retail sales were established, pint bottles were introduced, and India Pale Ale made its debut on the list of Molson brands for sale.

1. The Champlain and St. Lawrence was Canada's first railroad. John Molson personally bore one quarter of the costs of the railroad, launched in 1836. 2. In 1910, Molson purchased its first motorized vehicle, a Grabowsky. It was not, however, until 1947 that the company's last horse retired to pasture.

A new partnership was formed in 1861 with the third generation of the Molson family, John H.R., William Markland and John Thomas Molson under the name, John H.R. Molson & Bros. By the year of the brewery's 100th anniversary, 1886, the brewery had registered a 175-fold increase in volume since its founding year.
The 4th generation, John H.R.'s nephews, Frederick William and Herbert, formed an exciting partnership in 1897. This pair were responsible for electricity replacing steam, refrigeration, and the use of mechanical filters making year-round brewing possible. In 1903, Export Ale and Stock Ale were introduced to accommodate the change in consumer tastes for lighter, brighter beers.

1907 marked the brewery's first 1,000,000 gallon year and the end of the hand labelling process. Better production methods allowed a dramatic increase in output; in 1909, the brewery celebrated its first 2,000,000 gallon year. By August of 1911, the brewery became a private, limited joint-stock company—Molson's Brewery Ltd. A new $200,000 bottling operation, equipped with automatic, electrically driven machinery, was installed in 1913. The brewery's production, by 1920, had reached 3,000,000 gallons.

Although the old John Molson adage, "An honest brew makes its own friends", remained a central belief, in 1930 the benefits of modern marketing techniques were acknowledged when an advertising agency was engaged for the first time. In the 1940's, two important milestones were achieved: in 1945, Molson became a public jointstock company, Molson's Brewery Limited; 1949 marked the company's first million barrel year.

1. The Front Facade of the Montreal Brewery as it Appears Today. The large tower in the centre houses the new brewhouse, opened in 1986, to coincide with the brewery's 200th anniversary. 2. Eric Molson, Deputy Chairman of The Molson Companies Limited, is the sixth generation of the Molson family to be actively involved in the business. A master brewer, his presence ensures the continuation of his great-great-great grandfather's standards and traditions.

When Molson's Toronto brewery opened officially in 1955, on the shore of Lake Ontario, it was said to be the most modern brewing plant in the world. This brewery's first product, Crown and Anchor, was Molson's first lager. Subsequent years saw the Molson name travel further across the country, with the purchase, in 1958, of a chain of five Western Canadian breweries, the next year, a brewery in Winnipeg, Manitoba and, in 1962, a brewery in St. John's, Newfoundland.

Molson is today the oldest brewery in continuous operation in North America. In 1986, the brewery's 200th anniversary, a new brewhouse was opened in Montreal. Housed in a 140-foot high building, this new installation was completed at a cost of $22 million. Today, Molson has breweries across Canada and export destinations which include the United States, the United Kingdom, the Caribbean, Japan and Puerto Rico. (Approximately 2 billion bottles of beer are produced annually by Molson, compared to the first year's equivalent of 53,000). The breweries currently have a combined capacity of 10 million hectolitres. Molson Breweries of Canada Limited employs 4,000 across the country, and in 1986 generated $1,277 million in sales. Molson's current range of products includes Molson Canadian, Golden, Export and Molson Light, as well as Coors and Coors Light, brewed under licence.

John Molson's belief in diversification and growth is reflected in the contemporary operations of The Molson Companies Limited including Diversey Corporation and Beaver Lumber Company Limited, as well as the brewing operation. In all of its modern business practices, the Molson organization has remained true to the traditions and high principles of its founder. This perpetuity has been assisted by the continuing involvement of the Molson family. Today, Eric Molson, Deputy Chairman of The Molson Companies Limited, is the sixth generation of the family to be actively involved in the business.