A brief history of the bottled water industry

December 1, 2011

The first documented case of water being sold in bottles was in France in the XVIIIth century.

The  history of bottled water however dates  back many more centuries, to the practice of people being given a personal container of water for spiritual or physical healing when visiting a holy site, or a venue  where so-called “miracle water” was to be found. 

The first medicinal water bottlers surfaced in Europe early in the XVIIth century, but it wasn’t until the XIXth century that the question of who owned the springs became an issue. By the end of the XIXth century, laws about public water had been passed, declaring these springs natural resources of public interest.

In the United States, commercial distribution of bottled water   found at Jackson's Spa in Boston, Massachusetts, started around 1767. The water was taken from a mineral water source and then sold for therapeutic purposes.  1854 saw the birth of the first commercially-packaged drinking water in the United States. It was known as Poland Water as it was sourced from Poland, Maine and it was sold by the jug for 15 cents. Today, the United States has the highest bottled water consumption in the world.

As far as Europe is concerned, Perrier could be considered as one of the oldest spring waters in the marketplace. In 1769, the Granier family purchased the Bouillens estate. Alphonse Granier was the first to take an interest in the spring located in this area in 1841, but commercial operation really took hold only in 1863, when Napoleon III signed a decree acknowledging that the Bouillens spring water was a natural mineral water. Many scientific studies confirmed the virtues of the water and the Établissement Thermal de Vergèze, name given to the source, soon welcomed its first health-conscious visitors.

Unfortunately, in 1869 the Vergèze site was demolished by fire. Despite Alphonse Granier's attempts to restore the site, the company had to face heavy losses. The spa went bankrupt and ceased all its activities in 1884. Four years later, in 1888, a Vergèze landowner and businessman called Louis Rouvière bought the Bouillens estate. In 1894 he leased the spring to doctor Louis Perrier from Nîmes, with an option to purchase it. . It was from that moment that the spring became known by the name Perrier.

In 1898, Louis Perrier took over ownership of the Bouillens estate and later the same year the Établissement Thermal de Vergèze became Société des Eaux Minérales, Boissons et Produits Hygiéniques de Vergèze. The company was now about to face another big challenge: selling water to the French at a time when wine, beer and absinthe dominated the marketplace.

From that moment on, Dr. Perrier dedicated himself entirely to the spring and to improving the bottling operation. Perrier spent a lot of time developing a glass bottle with a hermetically sealed cap, so that he could package and ship water that contained three times its volume in carbonation.

Today, the Perrier brand is still going strong, giving us an example of how a successful business can grow from such humble beginnings. It demonstrates that   with dedication and effort, anyone can build a great company!

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