Samuel Bronfman (1889 - 1971) MP

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Birthplace: Soroki, Bessarabia (now Moldova)
Death: Died in Montreal, Communauté-Urbaine-de-Montréal, Quebec, Canada
Managed by: Neil Rosenthal
Last Updated:

About Samuel Bronfman

Samuel Bronfman, CC (February 27, 1889 – July 10, 1971) was a Canadian business magnate and philanthropist. He founded Distillers Corporation Limited, and is a member of the Canadian Jewish family dynasty, the Bronfman family.

Early life

Born in Soroki, Bessarabia, then part of Imperial Russia but now in Moldova, Samuel was one of eight children of Mindel and Yechiel Bronfman. He and his parents were Jewish refugees of Czarist Russia's anti-Semitic pogroms, who migrated to Wapella, Saskatchewan. They soon moved to Brandon, Manitoba. A wealthy family, they were accompanied by their rabbi and two servants. Soon Yechiel learned that tobacco farming, which had made him a wealthy man in his homeland, was incompatible with the cold Canadian climate of that region. Yechiel was forced to work as a laborer for the Canadian Northern Railway, and after a short time moved to a better job in a sawmill. Yechiel and his sons then started making a good living selling firewood and began a trade in frozen whitefish to earn a winter income. Eventually they turned to trading horses, a venture through which they became involved in the hotel and bar business.

Early business career

In 1903, the family bought a hotel business, and young Samuel, noting that much of the profit was in alcoholic beverages, set up shop as a liquor distributor. He founded the Distillers Corporation in Montreal in 1924, specializing in cheap whiskey, and concurrently taking advantage of the U.S. prohibition on alcoholic beverages. The Bronfmans found great success bootlegging to the northern cities of the U.S. such as Boston, New York and Chicago during the Prohibition era, while operating from the perimeters of Montreal, Quebec where alcohol production was legal.

His empire

Bronfman's Distillers Corporation acquired Joseph E. Seagram & Sons of Waterloo, Ontario, from the heirs of Joseph Seagram in 1928. Bronfman eventually built an empire based on the appeal of brand names developed previously by Seagram -- including Calvert, Dewars, and Seven Crown -- to higher-level consumers. His sales were boosted during the United States' abortive experiment with prohibition, and he was apparently able to do so while staying within the confines of both Canadian law where prohibition laws had been previously repealed and American law, while dealing with unsavory characters such as the Chicago Outfit of gangster Al Capone.

His renamed company, Seagram Co. Ltd., became an international distributor of alcoholic beverages, and a diversified conglomerate which included an entertainment branch.

Because of changes to US tax law in the Lyndon Johnson administration, it became advantageous for Bronfman to purchase an oil company, which he did with the purchase of Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company in 1963 for $50 million. In 1980, the Bronfman heirs sold the Texas Pacific Oil holdings to Sun Oil Co. for $2.3 billion.

The Seagram assets have since been acquired by other companies, notably General Electric, PepsiCo, Diageo, and Pernod Ricard.

Family life

On June 21, 1922, he married Saidye Rosner (1897 - July 7, 1995). They had four children:

Aileen Mindel "Minda" Bronfman de Gunzburg (1925–1986) Phyllis Lambert (born January 24, 1927) Edgar Miles Bronfman (born June 20, 1929) Charles Rosner Bronfman (born June 27, 1931)

Philanthropy and honours

In 1952, he established the Samuel and Sadie Bronfman Family Foundation, one of Canada's major private granting foundations. Bronfman was President of the Canadian Jewish Congress from 1939 to 1962, and he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1967. In 1971, he helped to establish the Bronfman Building at McGill University, which houses the Desautels Faculty of Management. The building was named in his honour as appreciation for his donation to the university. The Bronfman family has continued its support of the university; in 1993 they created the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, and in 2002 donated the Seagram Building on Sherbrooke St. to McGill.

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Samuel Bronfman's Timeline

1889
February 27, 1889
Bessarabia (now Moldova)
1922
June 20, 1922
Age 33
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
1925
1925
Age 35
Montreal, Communauté-Urbaine-de-Montréal, QC, Canada
1929
June 20, 1929
Age 40
Montreal, Communauté-Urbaine-de-Montréal, QC, Canada
1931
June 27, 1931
Age 42
Montreal, Communauté-Urbaine-de-Montréal, QC, Canada
1971
July 10, 1971
Age 82
Montreal, Communauté-Urbaine-de-Montréal, Quebec, Canada
July 14, 1971
Age 82
Montreal, Quebec, Canada