Saturday, April 13, 2019

W.A. Ross & Brother Limited - Belfast Beverage producers

William Adolphus Ross (1817-1900) was born in Dublin, a son of a banker called Henry Ross. (Henry was originally from Belfast as confirmed by newspaper reports of the untimely death of his teenage daughter Letitia Isabella, aged 14, in 1829, where he is described as 'Mr Henry Ross, of Belfast, late of Dublin'. When Henry died in 1863, at Holywood aged 77, he was buried at the 'new burying ground' in Belfast).

William had been been the managing director of Cantrell & Cochrane, where his business acumen saw the Belfast soft drinks operation become more profitable than the Dublin headquarters (see here). This article reveals more. There was a fall-out within the firm; William left and set up his own business in summer 1879 - which became a true Belfast global giant.

His new firm became famous simply as Ross's, selling mineral waters and ginger ales around the world from Belfast. Their advertising and giftware is iconic and sought-after still today. You can still find some of Ross's signage high up on the Belfast skyline at the entrance to the Victoria Square shopping mall, where their former head office building still stands.

He lived at a house called Iv-a-Craig in Craigavad, where he died on 22 September 1900 and was buried at Holywood.

His son George Harrison Ross took over the Belfast operation. His other son, and namesake, William Adolphus Ross, had settled in New York some time in the  (at Livingston, Staten Island) and opened up commercial opportunities for the company there. This advert is from the New York Times, 22 June 1910, and the trade card below is from Boston.

But lesser known are their forays into alcoholic beverages. Here's a photo of their 'O.P.S.' brand of unblended old pot still whiskey, clearly sourced from Comber Distilleries (the established 1825 date is the giveaway). You can also see from the label that the firm had operations in Belfast, Liverpool, Leith near Edinburgh and London. Their Liverpool outlet for a time had an arrangement to bottle and supply Guinness.

W.A. Ross junior died in July 1912 in Edinburgh, having just been in Belfast the week before. Even though he had been a resident of New York for many years he remained a member of the Ulster Reform Club.

Eventually, in the 1980s, the story went full circle when the famous firm merged with Cochrane's and the Ross's brand was closed.


Helena VonDrakenstein said...

always so great to get this kind of fascinatiing information....really appreciate it said...

I found s bottle with stars all over it. It says: W.A. Ross & sons LTD. Belfast. On the bottom it says:D.W. & Co. 167. If there was a way to take a picture of it I would. I found it close to 50 years ago in Northern Michigan U.S.A. It’s certainly unique.