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Issue 57 - Andrew Greig Barr 1872-1903

Scotland Magazine Issue 57
June 2011

 

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Andrew Greig Barr 1872-1903

Made in Scotland from girders

Popularly known as “Scotland’s other national drink”, Irn Bru (originally ‘Iron Brew’) was the brain child of Andrew Greig Barr, the second generation of a family dynasty that has carved out a central place in the Scottish soft drinks industry.
Andrew himself led a tragically short life. He was born in Falkirk in 1872, to a successful manufacturing family in the cork-cutting trade. When advances in bottling began to threaten business, Andrew’s elder brother, Robert Barr, branched out into the exciting new world of ‘aerated water’.
Although Andrew Greig Barr had gone into banking after finishing his education at Daniel Stewart’s College in Edinburgh, in 1892 he took over from his brother at the plant in Glasgow. The original company in Falkirk continued and the two had a complementary partnership, but it was Andrew who really drove the Glasgow side of the business and supervised the unique blend of ingredients for the famous Iron Brew drink that was launched in 1901.
Even today, it is said that only two members of the Barr family know the exact quantities and ingredients for the drink.
Not so different from today, there was a market in the early 20th century for drinks with particular healthy properties. Iron Brew was never actually brewed, but it did really contain iron, and it was famously advertised as being “made in Scotland from girders”.
In 1903 Andrew married Isabel Margaret Gibb at Dollar, but he died from blood poisoning and pneumonia only 11 weeks later, aged 31.
The next year the company was named after him, AG Barr & Co., and passed into the control of other Barr family members who had a particular talent for the branding of Iron Brew as a tough, strengthening and quintessentially Scottish drink. Perhaps inspired by the fact that Andrew’s younger brother William was a weightlifter, the first labels featured a strongman raising a bottle of Iron Brew.
Before the days of modern haulage, crates of Barr products were moved by horses and these horses were a publicity asset in themselves. The giant Clydesdale Carnera was said to be the largest working horse in the world, measuring 6ft 6 inches at the shoulder.
He was a hugely popular prizewinning animal and it was with real grief that a crowd gathered in January 1937 to see Carnera put down after slipping on an icy road.
World War II saw the nationalisation of the whole drinks industry and Iron Brew was not one of the lucky six soft drinks that were authorised for production. The company could easily
have collapsed during this time, but somehow AG Barr survived.
The next challenge came in the form of proposed new labelling laws that would make it illegal for a non-brewed drink to be called a ‘brew’. The leader of the company at the time, Robert Barr, came up with the idea of using a phonetic spelling to evade the problem, and in 1946 Irn Bru as we now know it was born.
Irn Bru was hugely successful in Scotland in the 20th century, even as the massive soft drink conglomerates were sweeping across the globe. Irn Bru remained as the most popular soft drink in Scotland, and the company was able to expand into England, tourist destinations such as Spain, and even to Russia where it was more difficult for American companies to gain a foothold.
AG Barr was floated on the Stock Exchange in 1965, though the founding family continue to hold a large stake in the company.
Over the years AG Barr bought a number of other companies, adding mineral water and fruity drinks to its portfolio. Perhaps the most important acquisition came in 1972 when AG Barr bought Tizer, another successful and distinctively British fizzy drink.
Though Andrew Greig Barr’s life was cut short, he was fundamental to the long success of his family business and the lasting place of Irn Bru in the heart and stomach of the Scottish nation.