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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.