The Bronfman family is a Canadian Jewish family. It owes its initial fame to Samuel Bronfman (1889–1971), who made a fortune in the alcoholic distilled beverage business during the 20th century through the family’s Seagram Company. The family is of Russian Jewish and Romanian Jewish ancestry.
At one point, Seagram, the crown jewel in the Bronfman family empire, was the largest owner of alcoholic beverage lines in the world.
The first-generation entrepreneur Samuel Bronfman took advantage of the post-prohibition alcohol boom to make Seagram a household name in North America. Their three most popular products were Seven Crown, VO and Crown Royal. The company was so successful that it expanded into other industries. Seagram bought the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company for about US$276 million in 1963. The company continued to thrive under second-generation Edgar Bronfman’s control, which lasted for a little over two decades.
Trouble began when Edgar’s son, Edgar Bronfman Jr, took over in 1994. Keen to enter the film and entertainment industry, Edgar Bronfman Jr sold Seagram’s 24.3 per cent ownership stake in DuPont Industries to free up investment capital. That stake, however, accounted for 70 per cent of Seagram’s income.
Bronfman Jr took the proceeds and bought a controlling interest in MCA (Universal Pictures) and later acquired PolyGram and Deutsche Grammophon. These interests, as much as they aligned with Edgar Jr’s dream of becoming an entertainment mogul, did little to better the family empire. Within five years, the family’s controlling interest in Seagram was sold to Vivendi.