How American Civil War led to
The Birth of Brooke Bond

This year, Brooke Bond Foods celebrates its 125th anniversary of trading in Manchester but the company may not have existed if it hadn't been for the American Civil War!

The company's founder Arthur Brooke, was working in a cotton mill in Lancashire when the conflict broke out and raw supplies from southern states dried up. Since his father was in the tea business, Arthur changed career and used his experience to land a job at the Liverpool branch of a large tea wholesaler.

Arthur Brooke

Arthur returned to Lancashire to save his father's failing firm. Then, the young entrepreneur moved to Manchester and used his profits to open his own shop in 1869, selling tea, coffee and sugar. The word 'Bond' was added to Brooke because he liked the sound.

Before long, the quality-conscious Brooke Bond and Company had shops in Liverpool, Leeds and Bradford. Weathering a depression at the end of the 1870's the company found success in the wholesale as well as retail markets.

By 1892 growth was so phenomenal that Arthur launched Brooke Bond on the London share market. Unfortunately, tea prices dropped and the dividend plummeted from 15 to eight per cent, drawing Arthur from semi- retirement. But Brooke Bond fought back and turned its fortunes around.

A Nottingham agent with his vans

In 1907, a decision to sell direct to the retail trade and use a national distribution system marked yet another turning point. Three years later, Arthur retired from a flourishing company and control didn't leave the family's hands until the 1970's when Sir Humphrey Prideaux took over from John Brooke as chairman.

Unilever bought the Brooke Bond Group in 1984.

The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, October 2002.