The Distillers Company

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The Distillers Company
IndustryManufacture of distilled potable drinks
HeadquartersEdinburgh, Scotland, UK
ProductsScottish whisky

The Distillers Company Limited was a leading Scottish drinks and pharmaceutical company which at one time was a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index. It was taken over by Guinness & Co. (now part of Diageo) in 1986 in a transaction which was later found to have involved fraudulent activity, becoming known as the Guinness share-trading fraud.


The company was formed in 1877 by a combination of six Scotch whisky distilleries: Macfarlane & Co., John Bald & Co., John Haig & Co, MacNab Bros & Co, Robert Mowbray and Stewart & Co. This company was born out of a trade association called the Scotch Distillers’ Association formed in 1865.

It combined with John Walker & Son and Buchanan-Dewar in 1925.

It was acquired by Guinness in 1986,[1] forming United Distillers[2] and the majority of its assets are now part of Diageo.


From 1942, Distillers Biochemicals (DCBL) operated an Agency Factory of the British Ministry of Supply manufacturing penicillin in Speke. The plant was one of the first two factories in Europe to produce penicillin.[3] Following World War II, DCBL purchased the facility for approximately four million dollars.

Distillers was also responsible for the manufacture of the drug Thalidomide in the United Kingdom.[4] Thalidomide had been developed by Grunenthal with whom, in July 1957, DCBL signed a sixteen-year contract to market the drug. DCBL ordered 6,000 tablets for clinical trial and 500 grammes of pure substance for animal experiments and formulation. Thalidomide was marketed in the United Kingdom under the name Distaval, beginning on April 14, 1958. Advertisements emphasized the drug's complete safety, using phrases such as non-toxic and no known toxicity. Later, Thalidomide was marketed under the names Asmaval, Tensival, Valgis, and Valgraine and found to cause nerve damage and malformations in births.[5]

The Speke site, also known as Speke Operations, was eventually sold to Eli Lilly and Company in 1963.[6]

Chemicals and plastics[edit]

Since 1915, during World War I, Distillers supplied industrial alcohol for making explosives. In 1922, it started to manufacture Discol-branded motor fuel made from alcohol. In 1928, it formed together with Turner and Newall the Carbon Dioxide Co Ltd to for sale of gas, a byproduct of their operations. In 1930, Distillers formed the British Industrial Solvents for production of acids and other solvents from industrial alcohol. In 1933, it formed Gyproc Products which was sold to British Plaster Board in 1944.[7] In 1937, Distillers acquired British Resin Products.[7][8] In 1939, it acquired a controlling stake in Commercial Solvents and 50% interest in BX Plastics, which full control was acquired in 1961. It followed by getting 48% shareholding in F. A. Hughes and Co. in 1941 and taking the full control in 1947.[7] In 1947, F. A. Hughes and Co. was merged into British Resin.[7][8]

In 1947, British Petroleum Chemicals was incorporated as a joint venture of AIOC and Distillers Company. In 1956, the company was renamed British Hydrocarbon Chemicals.[9]

In 1945, Distillers formed a joint venture British Geon with B. F. Goodrich to produce polyvinyl chloride and in 1954 it started a partnership named Distrene with Dow Chemicals to produce polystyrene.[8] In 1955, it took full control of Magnesium Elektron.[7] In 1967, BP acquired chemical and plastic assets of The Distillers Company which were merged with British Hydrocarbon Chemicals to form BP Chemicals.[10]

Directors of note[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Guinness directors showed 'contempt for truth' BBC, 28 November 1997
  2. ^ Diageo: History
  3. ^ "Professor who found a niche in drugs industry; Sophie Freeman meets Professor Mike Rubenstein, chief executive of Quay Pharmaceuticals". 17 August 2005. Retrieved 2011-09-03.
  4. ^ "Historic Agreement Secures Financial Future for Thalidomide Survivors" (Press release). 8 December 2005. Retrieved 2011-09-02.
  5. ^ Sunday Times; Potter, Elaine (1971). Suffer the Children: The Story of Thalidomide. Viking Press. ISBN 978-0-670-68114-3. , pp. 42-46
  6. ^ "Drugs firm celebrates 40 years". Liverpool Daily Post. Trinity Mirror North West & North Wales Limited. Retrieved September 2, 2011.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Distillers Co". Grace's Guide to British Industrial History. Retrieved 2017-06-18.
  8. ^ a b c Bamberg (2000), pp. 361–362
  9. ^ Bamberg (2000), pp. 350–352
  10. ^ Bamberg (2000), pp. 385–389


External links[edit]