The sparkling history of Cantrell & Cochrane

Cantrell & Cochrane was the largest manufacturer of soft drinks in the world.

Thomas Joseph Cantrell (1827 – 1909) was born in Dublin. He qualified as a medical practitioner and became a principal assistant at Grattan & Co, a Belfast firm of chemists. Grattan & Co also manufactured soft drinks, and introduced the first carbonated “ginger ale”.

Cantrell left Grattan & Co in 1852 to form his own chemist business with James Dyas at 22 Castle Place, Belfast.

Dyas & Cantrell manufactured mineral waters, ginger ale, lemonade and soda water, as well as other products. The firm began to manufacture sarsaparilla from 1856.

James Dyas left the partnership in 1859 to establish his own soft drinks and chemists business. Dyas & Cantrell continued to trade as T J Cantrell.

Perhaps no longer restrained by Dyas, Cantrell began to advertise extensively from the 1860s. The firm had depots in Dublin, Liverpool and Glasgow by 1862. The firm retained its headquarters at Castle Place, but expanding production saw soft drink manufacture relocate to 10 Arthur Place, Belfast.

Increasing demand for their products saw T J Cantrell relocate to 25 Bank Street, Belfast, a former brewery, in 1863. The firm commenced export of its ginger ale to America from 1866.

T J Cantrell merged with the soft drinks business of Henry Cochrane (1836 – 1904) of Dublin to form Cantrell & Cochrane in 1868. At this time the premises of the Hibernian Mineral Water Company of Nassau Place, Dublin were acquired.

From this juncture Cantrell became a sleeping partner at Cantrell & Cochrane.

Cantrell & Cochrane held contracts to supply several shipping lines, including Cunard, Inman, Montreal, National and City of Dublin by 1868.

Henry Cochrane continued to manage the Dublin site, and William Adolphus Ross (1817 – 1900) was appointed as manager of the Belfast factory from 1870. Under Ross’s leadership, the Belfast site was to prove far more profitable than the Dublin venture.

From around this time the firm began to add a chemical preservative to their ginger ale, which allowed it to maintain its quality in warm climates.

Cantrell & Cochrane successfully trademarked the “Club Soda” name in Britain and Ireland in 1877.

Ross was fired by Cochrane in 1879. Ross was to later win a court hearing for unfair dismissal, and establish a rival soft drinks manufacturing business on his own account.

Cantrell retired from the partnership due to ill heath in 1883. Cochrane remained as the sole proprietor, although the Cantrell & Cochrane name was retained.

According to the Belfast Morning News, Cantrell & Cochrane was the largest soft drink manufacturer in the world by 1884.

The Dublin works employed around 500 people by 1885 and had an annual production capacity of nearly 30 million bottles a year. Almost all of Nassau Place was occupied. The city and suburban trade employed sixteen two-horse vans. The Belfast factory was of a similar size.

The Belfast Morning News claimed in 1885 that what Guinness was to porter, and Bass was to pale ale, Cantrell & Cochrane was to ginger ale, especially in America.

Cantrell & Cochrane became a private limited liability company in 1898. The company was awarded a Royal Warrant by the King of Great Britain in 1901.

By the time Henry Cochrane died in 1904, Cantrell & Cochrane was one of the largest Irish exporters. He was succeeded as chairman by his son, Ernest Cecil Cochrane (1873 – 1952).

Cantrell died in 1909 with an estate valued at £70,045.

The Dublin factory employed around 1,000 people by 1914.

The First World War threatened the firm’s large and valuable American trade, so a factory was established in New York.

Cantrell & Cochrane was sold to E & J Burke, bottlers of Guinness in America, in 1925, and Ernest Cecil Cochrane stepped down as chairman, although he remained as a director.

Cantrell & Cochrane had a capital of £200,000 in 1930.

The end of Prohibition in the United States damaged the Cantrell & Cochrane export trade.

E & J Burke was acquired by Guinness in 1950.

The American subsidiary, with a factory at Englewood, New Jersey, had been sold to National Phoenix Industries by 1953.

Cantrell & Cochrane opened a new factory on Castlereagh Road, Belfast in 1956. The company employed a total of 1,100 people across the United Kingdom.

Guinness merged Cantrell & Cochrane with the Irish soft drinks operations of Allied Breweries (later Allied Domecq) to form C&C in 1968.

Cantrell & Cochrane (Dublin) had close to 60 percent of the Irish soft drinks market by 1974. Drinks were produced at a modern factory at Ballyfermot, Dublin.

In 1997 C&C employed 1,600 people.

In 1998 Allied Domecq acquired the 49.6 percent stake of C&C it did not own from Guinness for £270 million.

In 1999 Allied Domecq sold C&C to BC Partners for £580 million.

C&C Group became a public company from 2004. C&C sold its non-alcoholic drinks business to Britvic in 2007.

Former C&C drinks are still sold by Britvic in Ireland under the “Club” brand.

The former American subsidiary still operates from New Jersey, and its products include C&C Cola and C&C Ginger Ale.

Liked it? Take a second to support Thomas Farrell on Patreon!

11 thoughts on “The sparkling history of Cantrell & Cochrane”

    1. lol just found a wooden crate on my allotment c&c. Can tell & cochrane with 12/70 marked on it and Burscough written on it it also says property of C&C lol

  1. Wasn’t there a factory (or maybe a distribution warehouse) in Stockport (UK) up to the 1970’s?
    I have a memory of the logo painted on the end of the building. I suppose it could have been just an advertisement.

  2. Yes they had a factory in Stockport also one in South London and one in Sunbury on Thames that I know of as I worked in them all on the maintenance dept

    1. Hello, I also worked at the Sunbury on Thames depot.
      I have to say it was the best job I ever had. Thought I was rich too £17 per week!!! I had a boyfriend there called Terry lofthouse I would love to get in touch with him we had such fun on the annual coach outing to south sea. Just like the carry on films.

  3. My great grandmother said her name was Mary Cochrane and that she was born in 1863. She ran away at age 14 from an unknown place in Ireland and stowed away on a ship to America looking for her uncle Michael Cochrane who was a famous general in the civil war. She also said she was related to the family that owned Cantrell and Cochrane. I would love to know if she really was.

  4. Judy if you see this reply can you message me on rlddean (at) hotmail.com , that sounds a fascinating tale, i’d love to try and help you, i love in Belfast btw… David.

  5. My dad worked at the depot in Farwig Lane,Bromley,Kent as a salesman up until his death in 1957.
    I worked as a driver at the Sidcup,Kent depot from 1969 to 1972.
    A man by the name of George Durham worked with my dad and I believe he ended up very high up in management with the company.

  6. I am sure Cantrell & Cochrane was still on the go when I was a boy in Glasgow in the 40s and 50s – the name is so familiar!
    I have a crown cap bottle opener with “Cantrell’s” on one side and “Ginger Ale” on the other – no idea where it came from! I wonder if it is pre 1868?

    1. Crown caps we’re invented in 1892 and the type of bottle opener you describe RD702661 were produced from 1923. I have one with “C&C GINGER ALE” on one side and “CLUB SODA” on the other.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *