St Johns® | History of St Johns Bay Rum®

A fascinating 175 years of history

St. John Bay Leaf Oil | Bay rum has been an integral part of the history of the Virgin Islands and its people for centuries. The use of bay leaf oils as a beauty and health remedy has been a long standing tradition.  With its unique climate and exceptionally rich soil, the island of St. John provided an ideal place for bay trees to thrive and St. John bay leaf oils quickly acquired a worldwide reputation of being distinctive and superior.

The Invention of Bay Rum | In 1838, Danish chemist Albert Heinrich Riise became interested in this local remedy and discovered that by mixing St John bay leaf oils with fine Virgin Island rums, it created an amazing fragrance.  His unique invention was awarded the Centennial Medal in 1876, as well as awards in New Orleans and Chicago.

Virgin Island Bay Rum | The reputation of St John bay leaf oils continued to grow as one of the best in the world and in 1903 the Danish Plantation Company purchased 237 acres at Cinnamon Bay to cultivate St John bay trees. Their success encouraged other plantations to do the same in Carolina Estate, Maho Bay and Lameshur Bay.  The production of bay rum became an important Virgin Island export in the early 1920's.  Local small batch distillers blended bay leaf oils and Caribbean rums to make many varieties of Virgin Island bay rums.  At its peak, historians estimate that 1,000 gallons of pure St Johns bay leaf oil were blended into over 35,000 gallons of Bay Rum.
Bay Oil Still
Prohibition and Bay Rum | In 1921, the national prohibition of alcohol meant Virgin Island bay rum could no longer be exported to the United States.  By adding aspirin to bay rum, manufacturers were able to skirt the prohibition and word spread that drinking bay rum not only made you feel good but also relieved aches and pains. Virgin Island bay rum production reached a peak of over 100,000 gallons annually.
World War II | The onset of World War II forced AH Riise Enterprises, the largest Virgin Island bay rum company, to buy their own boats to transport bay rum to Miami.  They also brought back food and merchandise to help ease the painful shortages created by the war.  
Bay Rum is Back | John Webb of Minneapolis was stationed with the U.S. Navy on St. Thomas during WWII. He became intrigued by the bay rum industry and decided when the war was over he would revive bay rum in the         Virgin Islands.  Webb settled on St. Thomas and embarked on producing St Johns Bay Rum® in 1946.  The idea of palm weaving the St Johns Bay Rum® bottle was inspired by Webb's need to stand out in the crowded U.S. market.  The infamous "Fishnet Weave®" would go on to become a St Johns Bay Rum® trademark, recognized around the world. The combination of St Johns Bay Rum's great fragrance and beautiful packaging was a recipe for success.   As the demand for St Johns Bay Rum® increased, the corps of weavers in St. Barth grew to more than 200 families, creating a huge local industry that turned out ten of thousands of woven bottles annually.  The St. Barth "weaving connection" continued until 1995, when Hurricane Luis destroyed most of the Tyre palms on St Barth.
The Mad Men Years | In 1957, John Webb hired a Madison Avenue agency in New York City to represent St John® in the United States and soon it could be bought in America's leading stores such as Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue.  Between 1957 and 1963, a series of outstanding ads were placed in the New Yorker magazine. As a result, the distribution of St Johns Bay Rum® grew considerably and in the early sixties

it was sold in the finest stores in the United States.  Consumer products giant, Warner-Lambert, was so intrigued with St Johns Bay Rum that it acquired the company in 1963.  With a worldwide market in mind, Warner-Lambert registered the famous St Johns trademark in countries around the world.  Warner-Lambert added moisturizers, talcs, soaps, deodorants and two new fragrances, St Johns Cutlass Cologne and St Johns Indian Gold Cologne.  Warner-Lambert installed the equipment to produce high quality fragrance on St. Thomas.    Virgin Island Ownership | In 1978, Columbus, Ohio retailer Jerry Woodhouse bought the St Johns® brand from Warner-Lambert.  Mr Woodhouse concentrated on increasing sales locally on St.Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix. This reestablished the St Johns brand at fine hotels, gift shops and better retailers across the Virgin Islands.  Mr. Woodhouse's efforts also helped St Johns fragrances enter Nordstrom, Bloomingdales,  Neiman Marcus and Brooks Brothers to name a few.  Even Hollywood took notice with St Johns Bay Rum featured on episodes of M*A*S*H and movies like "Down and Out in Beverly Hills." Mr. Woodhouse introduced and two new scents, St John Island Spice Cologne for men and St Johns J'ouvert for women as well as St Johns sun care products uniquely formulated for the Caribbean sun.

A New Beginning | Hurricane Marilyn in 1995 dealt a severe blow to the Virgin Island60th Anniversary Bottles and destroyed the St Johns factory. Dedicated employees rallied to salvage what could be recovered from the wreckage and were able to resume shipping to customers within a few weeks.  With the global internet expansion, St Johns created its first E-Commerce store: and starting reaching fans from Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and many more. In 2006, to celebrate St Johns Bay Rum's 60th Anniversary, a limited edition bottle was produced to celebrate St Johns unique 'fishnet' bottle. 

St Johns Today In June of 2015, the St. Johns brand was acquired by a group of private investors led by CEO, John Fontana. Together with a team of industry veterans, Mr. Fontana is transforming the St Johns into a small batch fragrance factory that exclusively produces all of St Johns award winning fragrances. As of August 2015, our facility is under construction.  We will be open to guests and tours by September. Together with our many loyal customers, partners and vendors, we're looking forward to celebrating St Johns 70th Anniversary in 2016.