How We Started
Polar Beverages, the country’s largest independent soft-drink bottler, is a fourth-generation, family-owned business that traces its roots back to 1882.
Polar Beverages began as the J. G. Bieberbach Company, bottler of seltzers and ginger ale and distributor of imported mineral water. The company was also a wholesaler of alcoholic beverages. Prior to coming to Worcester, Mr. Bieberbach, the company’s founder, had immigrated to New York City from Germany, at the request of the Shafer Brewing Company, to help brew the first Pilsner beer in the United States.
In 1901 Dennis M. Crowley, the great grandfather of the present owners of Polar Beverages, founded D. M. Crowley & Co., a wholesale and retail liquor business. Dennis, also known as “Boss Crowley,” was a second-generation American. His parents had emigrated from Ireland because of the Great Famine. The top selling product in those days was Crowley’s Ball Brook Straight Whiskey.
In 1916 the Crowleys acquired the J. G. Bieberbach Company. The combined wholesale-retail liquor companies were very successful.
In 1918 Dennis continued to expand the business by purchasing the Leicester Polar Spring Company, and the combined businesses became known as the Bieber Polar Ginger Ale Company.
Changes in our Nation’s capital greatly impacted Polar’s business. In the 1920’s the 18th Amendment was added to The Constitution of the United States. This amendment prohibited the sale of alcohol, and thus Polar’s most profitable business was forced to cease, leaving Polar to focus on its ginger ale and spring water company. In 1933 the 18th Amendment was made null with the 21st Amendment, which allowed the Crowleys to resume their liquor business as “rectifiers and wholesalers;” however, the company remained focused on soft drinks and water as it is today.
In the early years of the company, the sale of bottled water accounted for a large percent of its business.
The acquisition of the Leicester Polar Spring Company was important because its assets included the rights to the use of a pure spring located in Spencer, Massachusetts. This spring water was used for the company’s bottled water; and because of the exceptional quality of the spring water, flavored soft drinks were added to the plant's production. Among the first flavors produced were Golden Ginger Ale and Pale Dry Ginger Ale.
The company’s headquarters remained at the site of the old Bieberbach firm at 113 Summer Street, Worcester, until 1968.
At various times in the company’s history, Polar’s beverages were bottled at other Polar- owned plants in Boston, Massachusetts; Hartford, Connecticut; and a warehouse was maintained in Springfield, Massachusetts.
1940 to 1970's
After serving in various branches of the military during World War II, the third generation of Crowleys became involved in Polar. The four Crowley brothers, Ralph, Edward, James and Denis, led the company. Entrepreneurial Chairman Ralph accepted and thrived in the lead management position.
Many changes took place at Polar during the 1960’s and 1970’s. In 1966 the Polar Ginger Ale Company was renamed Polar Corp. to correct the impression that the company only produced ginger ale. Technical advances in bottling machinery modernized the business. One of the most significant events was in 1968 when Polar moved to its current location on Route 290 and built today’s modern plant. This allowed other facilities to be consolidated into the Worcester plant, ideally located at the cross roads of Routes 290, 146, 90 and 495, the heart of Polar’s Northeast marketplace.
Ralph remained Chairman until his death in 1995.
In 1992 the fourth generation took over with Ralph Crowley, Jr., becoming President and CEO. Under his leadership, Polar made numerous acquisitions for the rights to manufacture and distribute National brands such as 7Up, A&W, Sunkist, Seagrams, Royal Crown and Diet Rite. In 1999 his brother Christopher became Executive Vice President & Treasurer. Both Ralph and Christopher remain today in these roles at Polar Beverages.
Under this fourth generation of Crowleys, Polar has undergone its most dramatic growth and change. In December of 1996, Polar Beverages bought long-time competitor Adirondack Beverages in Scotia, New York, including its 650,000 square foot manufacturing facility. Adirondack’s product line includes Adirondack, Waist Watchers, Clear ‘n’ Natural as well as private-label brands.
Late 1990's to 2005
By 1998 Polar had outgrown its Route 290 facility and began looking for a new location in the New England area. After much consideration and many offers by other states, Polar decided to remain in Worcester out of loyalty to its employees and the local community. Polar’s decision to remain in Worcester ensured continued employment for over 600 local employees.
For Polar’s renovation and restoration of the former Cookson Performance Plastics plant on Southbridge Street, the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce awarded Polar with the Silver Hammer Award.
In May of 1999 Polar Beverages acquired Venture Distributing, the leading new-age distributor in the Boston marketplace. Venture’s portfolio included brands such as Nantucket Nectars and AriZona. This acquisition was followed shortly in 2001 with the purchase of Snapple of Boston and then Snapple of Cape Cod in 2005.
By the end of the turn of the Twentieth Century, Polar had become a “super regional” beverage company. Polar had completed over thirty acquisitions expanding into five divisions and now consisting of proprietary brands Polar, Adirondack, Waist Watcher and Clear ‘n’ Natural and National brands 7Up, A&W, Sunkist, Seagrams, Royal Crown and Diet Rite along with new-age brands Snapple, AriZona, Fiji Water, O Water, HyDrive and Nantucket Nectars in addition to retailer private-label brands and finally home and office water.
Polar In the New Century
In September 2001 Polar Beverages formed a joint venture with Cott Corporation. The partnership is known as Northeast Retailer Brands, LLC. This joint-venture partnership produces and distributes most of the retailer branded beverages in the Northeast.
2007 marked Polar Beverages’ 125th year in the beverage industry. Polar used this milestone as a time to remember its modest beginnings in 1882 and to celebrate the company’s heritage. Throughout all the changes Polar has undergone, it has maintained its commitment to its associates, the community and its consumers by providing the highest quality, healthy and unique beverages available today.
Though it has changed in size, Polar is proud that it still holds on to the same values as its previous generations. We promise to continue the tradition of providing the highest quality beverages available.