The Carlsberg Foundation’s History

Founder of the Carlsberg Foundation, J.C. Jacobsen

The Carlsberg Foundation was established on September 25, 1876, when J.C. Jacobsen described the statutes of Denmark's first commercial foundation, the Carlsberg Foundation. He also asked the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters to nominate five professors from its center to form the foundation's board. Since then, the Carlsberg Foundation has overseen the Carlsberg Group to ensure that the brewery stays focused on innovation and high-quality products, as well as supporting basic research within natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences, all in alignment with the brewer's desire and vision.

The Carlsberg Foundation’s history – brewing meets science and social commitment

J.C. Jacobsen was very foresighted when he, in 1876, established the Carlsberg Foundation, Denmark's first commercial foundation. Initially, he donated DKK 1 million to the foundation as basic capital through a gift letter. At the same time, he asked the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, which then, as now, served as a meeting place for the most prominent Danish researchers, to appoint five professors from its center to form the foundation's board. In his will of 1882, J.C. Jacobsen bequeathed all of his property, including the Old Carlsberg Brewery, to the Carlsberg Foundation. The Carlsberg Foundation took over the brewery on October 1, 1888, following the Brewer's death in April 1887.

J.C. Jacobsen's decision was groundbreaking, visionary and lasting. His idea was that the Carlsberg Foundation, resting upon a foundation of science, still after his death should be able to ensure that Carlsberg continuously would strive to refine the production of beer "to the greatest possible perfection" and to accept only the highest quality of products that would stand out as exemplary.

"In working the brewery it should be a constant purpose, regardless of imme¬diate gain, to develop the art of making beer to the greatest possible degree of perfection so that this brewery as well as its products may ever stand out as a model and, through their example, assist in keeping beer brewing in this country at a high and honourable level."

These words, from Brewer J.C. Jacobsen’s will, are known today as Carlsberg’s “Golden Words” and provide the platform on which the Carlsberg Group’s many breweries around the world are run with the focus on research, innovation and high-quality products.

The “Golden Words” speak of dedication, orderliness and ambition, which were also the basis for the second major task that J.C. Jacobsen entrusted to the Carlsberg Foundation. It was the Brewer’s wish that the Foundation should help to ensure that his well-renowned company would support science in general through bursaries and donations.

With his Deed of Gift and the establishment of the Carlsberg Foundation, J.C. Jacobsen created a unique set-up, with brewing, science and social engagement going hand in hand, embodied then, as now, more than 140 years later, in the Carlsberg Foundation’s two main objectives:

  1. To be an active investor with a controlling interest in Carlsberg A/S, thus ensuring a decisive influence on the Carlsberg Group’s strategy
  2. To give back the dividends from the Carlsberg Foundation’s shares in Carlsberg A/S to society by:
    • Fostering and supporting the natural sciences, mathematics and philosophy, the humanities and the social sciences
    • granting funds to The Carlsberg Research Laboratory
    • maintaining and developing The Museum of National History at Frederiksborg Castle
    • granting funds for socially beneficial purposes through The Tuborg Foundation, especially in support of Danish trade and industry

Progress through science

When J.C. Jacobsen gave the Charter for the Carlsberg Foundation to the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, he also transferred the general management of Carlsberg to the Carlsberg Foundation. Since 1876, the Carlsberg Foundation’s board members have been elected by and from among the Danish members of the Academy.

For J.C. Jacobsen, this was a perfectly natural decision. He himself – as a brewer, private individual and citizen – was fascinated by the ever-thriving disciplines of science and, in his own words, perceived scientists as “the elite of Denmark”. Consequently, for him they were also best suited to taking care of his new Foundation and continuing the running of his well-established brewery in accordance with his visions and wishes, as formulated in the “Golden Words” and in the Carlsberg Foundation’s Charter.

As J.C. Jacobsen himself said concerning his choice of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, with the country’s sharpest and cleverest minds: 
“The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters is our only institution which is so fortunate as to be independent of all outside, unscientific considerations and influences.”

J.C. Jacobsen created the financial platform for the Carlsberg Foundation back in 1876 by donating capital of DKK 1m, funded by taking out a mortgage on the Carlsberg brewery.

When J.C. Jacobsen died in 1887 during a visit to Rome, the Carlsberg Foundation immediately became one of the world’s first commercial foundations. And in this, too, J.C. Jacobsen was visionary – that form of corporate structure only became commonplace in the 20th century.

The Carlsberg Foundation was the sole owner of the Carlsberg brewery until 1970, when Carlsberg merged with Tuborg and became a limited liability company.

An important legacy

The Brewer’s legacy is about more than just finances. It is also about acting in accordance with the Charter and staying faithful to the founder’s wishes.

According to the Charter, the Carlsberg Foundation must have a decisive influence over the Carlsberg Group. Two out of the five members serve as members of Carlsberg’s Supervisory Board, with the chair of the Carlsberg Foundation serving as deputy chair.

The Brewer made Denmark richer not just in respect of beer, but also in respect of everything that he created by virtue of his desire to give back to society. Today, the Carlsberg Foundation – as stipulated in its Charter – provides financial support for the Carlsberg Research Laboratory, the Museum of National History at Frederiksborg Castle and the Tuborg Foundation. The Carlsberg Foundation also supports basic research within the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities.

Brewer J.C. Jacobsen’s focus on quality and on long-term, strategic operation of the brewery, combined with a sense of social responsibility, are still today a beacon for both the Carlsberg Group and the Carlsberg Foundation.