William Henry Ross

Born: 1862
Died: 1944.

Occupation: Managing director and Chairman

Challenges overcome: Visual Impairment

Successes, Achievements & Awards:

William Henry Ross was a managing director and chairman of the whisky firm Distillers Company Limited (DCL). Born in Carluke, Lanarkshire in 1862, William Ross moved to South Queensferry with the family in 1863. A year after leaving George Watson’s College in Edinburgh, Ross got a job as a Junior Clerk with the DCL. Whilst working, William Ross also attended night school in order to learn bookkeeping, and quickly rose through the ranks, getting promoted as an accountant, secretary, a general manager before becoming Managing Director in 1900.

William Ross achieved much for the whisky industry during his lifetime, including organising a patent distiller’s campaign during a recession in the early 1900’s, which won victory before the royal commition on whisky in 1909. During that time he was also pursing policy which would rationalise the trade by buying patent and grain distillery businesses that were in difficulty. Throughout the first world war, William Ross was the unofficial leader of the whisky trade, working tirelessly to ensure its survival through restrictions and large duty increases. The Scottish Malt Distillers was formed under his chairmanship in 1914. For his services during the war, acting as an intermediary between distillers and the government for the supply of alcohol for munition, William was appointed OBE. William led a campaign to restructure the industry after the war with an anti-drink lobby gaining popularity internationally. One of his biggest achievements was the ‘big amalgamation’ in 1925, when DCL was brought together with John Walker & Sons, James Buchanan & Co., and John Dewar & Sons, the three largest blending houses.

Challenges Overcome

Whilst working overseas in Australia, William Ross damaged his sight severely in an accident and became blind. He worked hard to overcome his disability and set up the W.H.Ross Foundation for the Study and Prevention of Blindness in 1935.

Disability Definitions

Visually Impaired

Visual impairment (or vision impairment) is a decreased ability to see to a degree that causes problems not fixable by usual means, such as glasses or medication. Eye disorders which can lead to visual impairments can include retinal degeneration, albinism, cataracts, glaucoma, muscular problems that result in visual disturbances, corneal disorders, diabetic retinopathy, congenital disorders, and infection. Visual impairment can also be caused by brain and nerve disorders, in which case it is usually termed cortical visual impairment.


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Information sources:

Please click on the information links below to find out more.

Michael S. Moss, ‘Ross, William Henry (1862–1944)’, rev. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/37916, accessed 7 May 2015] – Please note that you will require library subscription or a library card to access the content on this site.

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