History

sub-headerThe Early Decades

As a distinct brand name, the origins of “Cruzan Rum” can be traced to January, 1934 when “The Diamond Rum Company” was founded by Malcolm M. Skeoch and other investors on St. Croix, US Virgin Islands following the repeal of Prohibition.

The company took its name from Estate Diamond, in Prince’s Quarter in St. Croix, which was purchased from a Mr. Hewitt in 1910 by Malcolm Skeoch to cultivate cane and manufacture sugar and rum, plus serve as the Skeoch family residence.  (Deed of Sale did not record Hewitt’s first name.)  The estate, which was bankrupt at the time of the 1910 purchase, totaled 425 acres (of which 280 acres had previously been in sugar cane cultivation and 145 acres in pasturage for working livestock).  It featured the customary Great House (planter’s residence, in this instance known familiarly as Diamond House); a “village” (laborers quarters); the remains of a windmill as well as a functioning steam mill (successive technologies used to crush sugar cane); and a “works” (boiling house) with still.  Skeoch set about the task of reconditioning and reactivating the estate.

Molasses is the principal by-product of cane sugar and an essential ingredient in the manufacture of rum.  Throughout Danish sovereignty, many large sugar estates on St. Croix had their own stills and made their own rum.  The number of active distilleries on estates noticeably declined during the last quarter of the 1800s.  It should be noted that the practice of assigning a distinctive name (or “brand”) for the purpose of marketing any rum distilled on St. Croix was unknown until the 20th Century.  The phrase “Crucian (or Cruzan) rum”—note the lower case for “rum”—was originally only a generic reference to the rums distilled on St. Croix.  An estate literally “branded” its barrels of sugar, molasses, and rum for export with the name of the St. Croix estate.

The United States formally acquired the Danish West Indies for strategic reasons on March 31, 1917.  This change of sovereignty was generally welcomed by the planters on St. Croix, since the U.S. had long been the principal market for their agricultural products.  Hopes for economic revitalization failed to materialize, mainly for two very different reasons.  Six days after the purchase of what was thereafter known as “the Virgin Islands of the United States,” the U.S. abandoned its neutrality and entered World War 1 on the side of the Allies.  Less than seven months later, a persistent temperance movement in the United States prevailed politically with passage of the Volstead Act and the adoption of the 18th Amendment—Prohibition–on October 28, 1917.  For more than 16 years thereafter, alcoholic beverages could not be legally distilled, sold, or consumed anywhere within the United States or its possessions.

The American experiment with Prohibition was a failure, and ended with its repeal by the 21st Amendment on December 5, 1933.  Malcolm M. Skeoch and other investors (Robert S. Fleming, Malcolm K. [“Harry”] Armstrong, and, Victor Gibean) promptly incorporated “The Diamond Rum Company, (aka “Diamond Distillery”) and its first distillation batch took place on January 6, 1934.  When health concerns forced Malcolm Skeoch to take a less active administrative role in the Company, the reins of management were transitioned initially through his nephew Robert S. (Selwyn) Fleming, and then remained with Malcolm Skeoch’s elder son, Gordon M. Skeoch, who had been involved with the reopening and operation of Diamond Distillery since 1934.    In 1943, Malcolm’s younger son, Miles M. Skeoch, began working in—and subsequently came to manage—the Barreling and  Bottling Plant division of the “Diamond” distillery.  He also became an officer and investor in “Cruzan Rum” during a later restructuring of the company.

During the mid to late 1930’s St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries, Inc. was formed for the purpose of distributing St. Croix rum in the United States.  The corporation even issued stock certificates at varying times up to and including the early 1940’s. (See Attached Certificate of  Capital Stock.)  While records and documents are insufficient to determine the exact date of the origin of St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries, Inc. as a corporation, the available records all point to it starting in the second half of the 1930’s, and initially to have been comprised of two separate rum companies, namely, The Diamond Rum Company at Estate Diamond in Frederiksted, and, Santa Cruz Distillers at Hermon Hill Distillery in Christiansted.  Initially, a large building in the town of Christiansted was used as the distribution center for St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries, Inc., and therefore, at times, in the first decade  “ Christiansted” was used in the the address of St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries, Inc., whether it was distributing rum from Diamond Distillery, or, from Hermon Hill Distillery.

Although some of the investors of The Diamond Rum Company were also investors in Santa Cruz Distillers, the two distilleries were marketed under separate labels, respectively, Cruzan Rum, and, Santa Cruz Rum. Early documents give evidence to the importance that was placed on advertising Cruzan Rum as a unique brand name from its earliest days.  In 1936, there was a  Copyright Registration  of the distinctive Cruzan Rum label (“Design consisting of barrel with two men against background of tropical scenery”)  issued to St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries Sales Corp of Portland, Oregon, (the marketing, sales, and distribution division of St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries, Inc.  in the northwestern United States).    (See attached Trade Marks document.)  Howard Wall, who was the distributor for Cruzan Rum in Oregon, Idaho and Washington, lived in Portland, Oregon.  In 1936 it was considerably easier to obtain copyrights in Oregon than in St. Croix.  And, with Cruzan Rum projected to have wide circulation in the United States, protecting its brand name and its distinguishing label became essential. This label and brand name were used exclusively for “Cruzan Rum”, distilled at Diamond Distillery. The brand name of “Cruzan Rum” remains to date, but the label is different.  Its well known and popular label of the 1930’s enjoyed easy recognition for approximately sixty years, until Cruzan Rum’s acquisition in 1993 by Todhunter, at which point new labels were introduced and frequently changed.

Although all “Cruzan Rum” was made only at Diamond Distillery on the Skeoch Estate, not all rum made there was bottled under that name.   Some of the rum manufactured at Diamond Distillery (and distilled identically to the rum bottled as “Cruzan Rum”) was sold as bulk rum to other companies.  Those companies then bottled it under their own brand name, sometimes even mixing it with other rums first.  However anything with the label of “Cruzan Rum” was assured to be the pure product that had been carefully distilled, refined and aged at Diamond Distillery.

As The Diamond Rum Company matured, administrative restructuring occurred.   In 1941, Victor Gibean sold his shares in both “St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries Inc.” and Santa Cruz Distillers in Hermon Hill to the investors of St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries Inc., who the available records point to as being the same investors as those in The Diamond Rum Company.    In the early 1940’s, Santa Cruz Distillers  merged with The Diamond Rum Company, closing the  distillery at Hermon Hill, and leaving Cruzan Rum still operating at Estate Diamond.   As the two companies (comprising St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries, Inc) merged,  St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries, Inc. subsequently became a partnership d/b/a/ St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries, and operating solely at Estate Diamond in Frederiksted, producing Cruzan Rum and sugar cane.

Articles of Partnership for St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries were drawn up in July, 1944.   The investors (referred to as “partners”)  of this new partnership , d/b/a/ St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries, were Malcolm M. Skeoch,  Robert S. Fleming,  Malcolm K. “Harry” Armstrong,  Gordon M. Skeoch, and Howard Wall.  (See attached Articles of Partnership, July 1944.)   The cable address for St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries (both as a partnership, and later when it again reverted to a corporation) was “Industries”, and as a result the Cruzan Rum business was frequently referred to as such by the owners in everyday conversation.

For the majority of the “Industries’” duration, Gordon Skeoch ran the company, implementing many upgrades to Cruzan Rum.  Gordon’s wife, Carmen D. Skeoch, as office manager in the 1940’s and 1950’s, met the organizational, clerical, and bi-lingual needs of the growing company, and was later succeeded by Jessie Wilson whose efficiency and faithfulness were legendary.   Miles Skeoch ensured the smooth, continual functioning of the Barreling and Bottling Plant.

Up until the early 1960’s, most of Cruzan Rum was shipped off-island either in barrels or cases of bottles, by Merwin Lighterage Company, which was a subsidiary of Rob’t L. Merwin & Co..  The Merwin company was the shipping and insurance agent for Cruzan Rum, both as St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries and later VIRIL, until the mid 1970’s.   Having close business and family ties, the Skeochs and Merwins frequently collaborated in their individual business ventures, to their mutual advantage.  Rob’t L. Merwin & Co., while benefiting from the frequent and regular rum cargo, provided reliable and insured transportation for the valuable cargo, which in turn helped Cruzan Rum realize a viable future in off-island business.

In 1951 Gordon Skeoch temporarily left St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries for two years to assume the presidency of Virgin Islands Corporation (VICORP), a role critical to the welfare of the Virgin Islands.  Its predecessor, the Virgin Islands Company (VICO), was chartered by the federal government in 1934 to promote the economic revitalization and advancement of the Virgin Islands.  Gordon Skeoch resumed the presidency of St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries in 1953, and continued to serve in that capacity until 1964.

In December of 1953 the partnership d/b/a/ St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries, going through a major reorganization, was dissolved and immediately re-formed as a corporation, St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries, Inc.  (See attachment).  The new investors, now known as “incorporators”, were Gordon M. Skeoch owning  53% of the corporation, Cedric C. Nelthropp with 29%, Miles M. Skeoch with 15%, and Warren H. Young with 3%.  Of the previous investors and partners, only Gordon Skeoch remained.  Victor Gibean left in 1941, while Malcolm Skeoch, Robert S. Fleming, Malcolm K. “Harry” Armstrong and Howard Wall sold their interests to the new “incorporators” in 1953, which now also included Miles Skeoch who had been managing the Bottling Plant for approximately ten years.  Cedric Nelthropp, relatively new to Cruzan Rum, had worked at VICORP for several years before joining Cruzan Rum.  Employment at VICORP provided substantial experience with the sugar cane industry. The fourth “incorporator” of St. Croix Sugar Industries, Inc., Warren Young, was the attorney for the corporation.  All investors also served as officers in the company.

During the 1953 reorganization of St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries, Inc., many farming diversifications were added to the rum and sugar cane business. (See attached Articles of Incorporation of St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries, Inc.)  In keeping with this diversification, one of the early critical decisions made by Gordon Skeoch, in his capacity as president of the company, was to save the livestock business in St. Croix by committing St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries, Inc. to take over both the lease and the management of the Abattoir (slaughter house) which was about to close since it had been operating at a loss for several years.  The closing of the Abattoir would mean an end of the livestock industry in St.Croix since at the time there were no means of shipping live animals to off-island markets.   While it was obvious that there were inherent risks in assuming the added responsibility of taking on an outside failing business, the owners of St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries, Inc.  agreed that the risk to the overall welfare of St. Croix was a greater danger, so threw themselves whole heartedly into the rescue endeavor.   Literally, the distillery at Diamond would be shut down for a week or two at a time, and while leaving only a skeleton crew behind, employees, including management personnel, would be transported to Christiansted to operate the Abattoir.  Working in close cooperation with the farmers throughout the island, this practice continued for several years.   Although obviously a challenge to the profitability and growth of St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries, Inc., the Abattoir venture allowed the livestock business in St. Croix to survive until viable and permanent arrangements could be made to ship farm animals “on-hoof” directly off island.

The Abattoir episode was characteristic of Gordon Skeoch’s presidency of Cruzan Rum.   Donald (“Hardy”) Nelthropp,Sr., one of Skeoch’s successors as president of Cruzan Rum, and who claims Skeoch as his mentor, often stated, “Gordon always told us, ‘Never do anything to hurt the Virgin Islands.  If you have to choose between the good of the company and that of the Virgin Islands, always put the good of the Virgin Islands first.’”

Even with the expansion and branching out into various farming endeavors, the distillation of Cruzan Rum still remained the primary focus of St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries, Inc.  Prior to the first third of the 20th century, rums of a less refined nature, primarily pot still rums, had previously been manufactured on sugar plantations throughout the island of St. Croix, including Estate Diamond.  Under Skeoch management, pot still rum making at Diamond Distillery was converted to continuous column still production resulting in a refined high grade rum.  This success was due, in no small part, to the contributions of a brilliant and renowned chemical engineer, Herminio Brau, who for many years was in charge of the Rum Pilot Plant Laboratories in Puerto Rico, while simultaneously engaged as the Head of the Law School at the University of Puerto Rico, and also, concurrently serving as Chairman of Seagrams, Puerto Rico.   In  the latter years of the 1950’s,  Brau was employed intermittently as a consultant to St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries, Inc. where he helped to enlarge and modernize the continuous columns stills, primarily designing new stripping columns, rectifying columns, fusel columns, and, heads columns.  Stripping columns separated alcohol (“Hi-Wine”) from the mash, discarding the mash and sending the “Hi-Wine” to the rectifying column where the finished distillate was removed.  In this rectifying column also, “heads” (aldehydes) and “tails” (fusels) were fractionated and removed from the final product.  These undesirable by-products were sent to their respective columns. In each column, (fusel columns and heads columns) water was added to each product. This enabled these impurities to be first separated, and then concentrated and discarded, subsequently leaving the good rum to be returned to the rectifying column to continue in the distillation of rum.

In 1961, 80% of St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries, Inc. was sold to Schenley Distillers.  Schenley changed the company’s name first to “Cruzan Rum Distillery” and then to “Virgin Islands Rum Industries Limited” (VIRIL).   This name change was especially appropriate for two reasons. First, in a 1963 merger, Cruzan Rum Distillery took over the distillation of rum for A. H. Riise, a rum company whose principal owners were from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.  The second reason for the suitability of the new name centered around the fact that the entire island of St. Croix was phasing out of sugar cane production in the mid 1960’s.  This development was a more significant concern for rum distillers since, with an absence of sugar cane crops in the island, molasses now had to be imported in order to manufacture rum.

In 1964, Schenley bought the remaining 20% of Cruzan Rum, then known as VIRIL.   Also in 1964, Gordon Skeoch resigned as president of VIRIL.   To ensure continuity and the same level of performance in the company just purchased, Schenley asked Gordon Skeoch to stay on as Chairman of the Board of VIRIL, which he did until 1976.  Gordon Skeoch’s standards for both precision and integrity had secured Cruzan Rum’s reputation as a quality product, and enabled future expansion.
The Later Years
Since the retirement of the Skeochs, Cruzan Rum has been managed by two generations of the Nelthropp family, under a series of different owners.  The first generation of Nelthropps was Cedric C. (“Ceddie”) Nelthropp and his brother Donald C. (“Hardy”) Nelthropp, Sr.  The second generation of Nelthropps is Donald. C. Nelthropp, Sr.’s three children ( Donald Jr., Gary, and Karen) who, along with Marvin Pickering, presently manage Cruzan Rum.

Around 1950, Cedric Nelthropp, noted for being extremely adept in mathematics , was employed initially by Malcolm Skeoch on Estate Diamond to help with the financial bookkeeping since Malcolm Skeoch was continually attempting to reduce his work load due to a previous heart attack.  Shortly thereafter, Cedric Nelthropp’s duties expanded to include working at Diamond Distillery.  Donald C. (“Hardy”) Nelthropp was recruited from Portland, Oregon in 1959 to join his brother and also work for the “Industries”. Both Nelthropp brothers subsequently became officers and partners of the corporation. At the time of the sale of St. Croix Sugar Cane Industries, Inc. to Schenley in 1961, the investors were Gordon M. Skeoch, Cedric C. Nelthropp, Miles M. Skeoch, Donald C. Nelthropp, Sr., and Warren H. Young.

When Gordon Skeoch resigned as president of VIRIL in 1964, he was succeeded by Cedric Nelthropp.  With VIRIL enjoying the financial advantages of Schenley Distillers at that point, Cedric (“Ceddie”) Nelthropp began expanding the physical plant at Diamond Distillery.  Working alongside his workforce, “Ceddie’s” “hands on” style was recognized as highly effective in getting the best out his workers.

Another key player in the management of Cruzan Rum at this time, was Gerard A. Byrnes who was with the company from 1964 through December 1989.  Initially hired as an accountant, he quickly rose to Treasurer and Vice- President, shareholder, and Senior Vice- President. His skill and efficiency was recognized as a contributing factor to the growth of the company.

In 1982, Cedric Nelthropp was succeeded by his brother, Donald (“Hardy”) Nelthropp, Sr., under whose guidance for the next 25 years “Cruzan Rum” greatly expanded in terms of growth, as well as in the development of new concepts and marketing strategies.  He, too, prudently utilized the financial support and capital of the varying parent companies to their best advantage.

As “Cruzan Rum” grew exponentially during “Hardy” Nelthropp’s 25 year tenure as president  (going from producing 3.4 million gallons of rum in 1982 to 8.5 million gallons at the end of 2007), it contributed significantly to the economic growth of the Virgin Islands.    This success was no small feat, since the company changed owners, names, and labels several times. There were six owners after Schenley between 1988 and 2008, (four of them while Hardy Nelthropp was president):

(1988)  VIRIL Acquisition Partners, whose principal investors were from
Schenley Distillers.  Other shareholders included:
Donald (Hardy) Nelthropp, Sr. and Gerard  A.Byrnes from VIRIL, plus outside investors; (1993)  Todhunter International, a subsidiary of which was Florida Distillers;
(2002 )   Angostura Ltd. in Trinidad bought controlling interest from Todhunter;
(2005)   V&S Sprit  (Absolut);
(2008)   Pernod;
(2008)  Beam, Inc. Global Spirits & Wine;

In 2007, Donald Nelthropp, Sr. retired, leaving the second generation of Nelthropps (his three children– Donald Jr., Gary, and Karen–), and, Marvin Pickering, at the helm.

Gary C. Nelthropp became President and CEO, and as such runs the company.  His easy manner, promoting harmony, has become critical to effective management since the company has evolved into a complex international organization.

Donald C. Nelthropp, Jr., Vice-President of Plant Operations, is responsible for the importation of molasses, without which rum could not be made.  Additionally, he is in charge of the operation and maintenance of the entire physical rum plant.

Karen Nelthropp Low, as Hospitality and Pavilion Manager, gives tours of the distillery to hundreds of tourists every year, educating them on both rum production and its history.  Her tours and lectures conclude with a multitude of refreshments sampling the various rum flavors, as well as optional nonalcoholic beverages.  Karen Low is also in charge of the Cruzan Legacy Tours which presents, in a more in-depth manner, the process and history of rum production for the purpose of educating sales representatives from the parent company, Beam, and other interested liquor companies.  This information is beneficial to the marketing of Cruzan Rum not only in the United States, but abroad as well.

Marvin Pickering, with the firm for the past twenty-seven years, first served in 1982 as staff accountant (a newly created position at that time), then Treasurer, Vice- President, and, ultimately as Senior Vice-President and CFO, which he continues to date.   During his watch, the company has gone from manual record keeping to a fully computerized financial record keeping system.  His functions have included not only financial duties but also overseeing Hospitality and Human Resources, as well as the financial aspects of Production and Processing.

Presently, as of June, 2009, the owner of “Cruzan Rum” is Beam, Inc. Global Spirits & Wine, and, the name of the Cruzan Rum company in St. Croix is  “Cruzan VIRIL”.  It is currently projected to produce 10 million gallons of rum in 2009.

“Cruzan Rum” has, for decades, been internationally recognized as one of the world’s great rums, the fulfillment of a vision begun seventy five years ago by the Skeoch family.  Building upon the principles and foundation which, for over forty years, were solidly formed by the Skeochs, the present management, under the leadership of its officers, the Nelthropps and Pickering, has ushered Cruzan Rum into the third millennium and into a promising future of continued prosperity.

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Sincere gratitude is given to the following people:
Jean Fleming, who shared her vivid memories of her father’s (R.S Fleming) and Victor Gibean’s early involvement in Cruzan Rum, and, the early days of Cruzan Rum; an anonymous professional historian who was consulted, and generously donated expert knowledge based on hours of research; Marvin L. Pickering who willingly hunted through the archives of Cruzan VIRIL and made available many of the records from which these facts were obtained; Donald C. (Hardy) Nelthropp, who also provided records and documents on the history of Cruzan Rum, and additionally, supplied generally overlooked but verifiable memories, as well as explanations in rum production; Robert L Merwin who tirelessly edited this brief history, and graciously contributed  suggestions for its improvement; and, various family and friends who provided insight, encouragement, and helpful ideas.

Gwendolyn E. Skeoch
© Copyright 2009