The founder of the “Beam Dynasty” Jacob Beam and his wife Mary had 12 children with eight boys and four girls. David Beam was the third son and fifth oldest child born in 1802 in the newly formed Commonwealth of Kentucky in what was then Washington County. The three oldest of Jacob’s sons continued on in the Bourbon trade, Jacob Beam, Jr. (1787-1844), John Beam (1798-1834) and David Beam (1802-1854). But it was his son David Beam that helped him most in the whiskey business.
David Beam was as smart as a whip and learned from the industrial revolution going on around him. His father named him the “Distillery Manager” in 1820 and he expanded the distillery from a modest family business into a good sized factory, naming it the “Old Tub Distillery.” He also had them transition from Pot Stills to Column stills, becoming one of the first companies to use Column stills in 1820. At the age of 20 in 1822, just two years after expansion, Jacob turned over the ownership of the distillery and the business to David.
In 1824 David married Elizabeth Settle and they had nine children; Joseph B. Beam (1825-1916), Jacob L. Beam (1826-1902), Martha Beam (1831), David M. Beam (1833-1913), Sarah M. Beam (1835), John H. “Jack” Beam (1839-1915), Issac Beam (1837-1904), Nancy E. Beam (1941) and George W. Beam (1943-1920). During the 1830’s David started employing steamboats to transport their whiskey to major river cities throughout the Mid-West including; Louisville, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh and South including; Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans. Throughout the 1840’s, David used the power of railroad trains to sell their Bourbon to many major and medium cities throughout the Mid-West, Northeast and spreading out across the eastern half of the United States. After the death of Elizabeth Settle, David remarried a woman named Elizabeth Cheatham and had two more children, William P. Beam (1848-1933) and Emily Beam (1849-1938).
Three of David’s four sons went on to become Master Distillers. Joseph B. Beam, David M. Beam and John H. “Jack” Beam all followed their father David and went into the Bourbon business as a career. Their third son David M. would continue the families business and go on become president of the “Old Tub Distillery.” (Another founder page will discuss David M.)
The oldest of David’s sons was Joseph M. Beam, born in 1825. He and his wife, Mary Ellen, had fourteen children and at least two of his sons continued the family legacy of making Bourbon. The older of the two was Minor Case Beam, who worked at several distilleries before buying an interest in the F.M. Head Distillery in southern Nelson County, which was eventually renamed the M.C. Beam Distillery in his honor. In 1910 he sold his plant to the distillery which began making Yellowstone Bourbon at that facility. Guy Beam, worked at a number of Kentucky distilleries before and after Prohibition and was instrumental in the growth Old Crow and Old Grand-Dad bourbons. During Prohibition, he worked at the Canadian Club distillery.
The youngest son of David Beam to go into the Bourbon trade was John H. "Jack" Beam, born in 1839. He was 14 years younger than his oldest sibling Joseph M.
Jack left the “Old Tub Distillery” after working at his father's distillery for eight years from age twelve to twenty-one. At the age 21 he ventured out on his own and built his a plant near Bardstown in 1860. That endeavor was successful for many years, but he lost financial control of it during the bank panic of 1880. Yet he stayed on as the “Master Distiller” until his death in 1915, at the age of 75.
The name of Jack and his son Edward's distillery, and the name of the whiskey they made there, was Early Times. Eventually that brand was acquired by Brown-Forman. When Brown-Forman built a new distillery in 1955, in the Louisville suburb of Shively, Kentucky they named it after what was by then the world’s bestselling whiskey brand. Early Times continues to be a top 20 selling whiskey throughout the world.
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