Owsley Brown, I was born in Louisville, Kentucky in February, 1879. He was the oldest living son of the seven children that George Garvin Brown and Amelia Owsley Brown had. George Garvin Brown the founder of the Brown-Forman Corporation. Owsley Brown was a graduate of Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. He earned his law degree from the University of Virginia Law School. When he was 22 years old he married a local girl named Laura Lee Lyons Brown and in 1906 and 1908 they had two children William Lee Lyons Brown and Amelia Brown Frazier.
In 1910 Owsley Brown, the son of proprietor George Garvin Brown, makes a crucial decision to join the family business. This begins a tradition of family apprenticeship that continues for more than a century. Nepotism rules at Brown-Forman, a meritocratic sort of nepotism for the most part, but one that still allows primogeniture to determine who becomes CEO. In 1917 George Garvin Brown dies at the age of 70. His son, Owsley Brown, I, takes the helm as president of Brown-Forman.
The eighteenth Amendment making Prohibition the law of the land making passes in 1920, making it illegal to manufacture, transport or sell alcoholic spirits. Owsley Brown applies for and receives one of only six licenses to bottle whiskey for medicinal purposes during prohibition. Brown-Forman makes its first acquisition in 1923 and purchases Early Times from John Henry “Jack” Beam. By doing this Owsley Brown ensures that Brown-Forman’s whiskey supply lasts throughout prohibition into the leanest years of the whiskey industry. By buying the entire stock of Early Times and moving it to the company’s government-designated warehouse in Louisville, Owsley guarantees Brown-Forman’s place at the top of the distilled spirit industry.
An unofficial U. S. Whiskey Cartel led by Owsley Brown of Brown-Forman was sent to Europe to try to sell over 20,000 barrels of bourbon, the mission was only partially successful. When Proibition was repealed with the 21st Amendment, Brown-Forman Corporation, which produced Old Forester and Early Times, had a supply of aged whiskey on hand to kick off the 1933 celebrations. But after the company’s 1934 fiscal year that was supposed to be a blockbuster after repeal, didn’t turn out to be as profitable as predicted, its president, Owsley Brown, I, did the honorable thing and offered half of his stock to his disappointed investors in lieu of a dividend.
Also in 1933 Owsley Brown of Brown-Forman and a group of other concerned distillers met with attorneys from the Wholesale Liquor Dealers Association in Washington, D.C. Their aim was to unite the entire distilled spirits industry, write a code of conduct that would be acceptable to all, and convince everyone in the industry to sign it. The idea was that the distillers would show their willingness and ability to police themselves from within and prevent post-Prohibition bars from becoming the seedy, unregulated dives they had been prior to 1919. To a very large extent, it worked.
In 1940 Brown-Forman purchases the Old Kentucky Distillery, in Louisville which is the Old Forester Distillery today. Then in 1941 they purchased the Labrot & Graham Distillery, in Versailles, Kentucky which was originally founded in 1812 by bourbon-making pioneer Elijah Pepper. This purchase was made at te same time that World War II forces the Old Forester Distillery in Louisville to industrial alcohol for the war effort. The last of Brown’s accomplishments occurred in 1945 with the founding of the Bluegrass Cooperage, allowing Brown-Forman to produce its own barrels. He became Chairman of the Board at Brown-Forman in 1945. The company made its first attempt to buy the Jack Daniel Distillery in 1950 and named Owsley the Honorary Chairman of the Board Emeritus in 1951.
In 1951 Owsley Brown retires and turns the mantle of the company over to his son W. L. Lyons Brown becomes chairman of the board. He retires just as Early Times becomes the number one selling whiskey in North America.
Owsley Brown passed away on Halloween, October 31st, 1952 in Louisville, Kentucky. Owsley Brown was inducted posthumously into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2008. Brown became only the 3rd of 7 Brown-Forman Corporation employees to be inducted into the Bourbon Hall of Fame behind only his father George Garvin Brown and Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson.