Local farmer and illicit distiller John Smith acquired a license to build a distillery in 1824. Legal distilleries were not seen with good eyes by well established smuggling gangs back then. Often, gangsters would burn legal distilleries to the ground. To avoid this John Smith carried two pistols everywhere he went.
The style of whisky produced by John Smith was a lot lighter in style than that of other whiskies produced in the area. The spirit became popular and soon enough John Smith opened two more distilleries. Since at least 1843 Andrew Usher Sr., a spirits merchant, had started to re-sell John Smith's whisky from his warehouses in Leith, Edinburgh. This partnership proved very lucrative for them both and in 1859 John Smith built The Glenlivet distillery on its current site.
By the mid 1850's the Usher family had released a Vatted (blended) whisky: 'Old Vatted Glenlivet' (OVG). This whisky was incredibly popular and John Smith's whiskies were an essential component of the blend. Because of the increased popularity of blended whiskies from the 1860's and later, the name 'Glenlivet' started to be used by many distilleries in what is now called the 'Speyside region'.
In the 1880's George Smith Grant sued other distilleries and tried to stop them from using the name Glenlivet. The legal challenge did not succeed. Other distilleries argued successfully that the name Glenlivet denoted a place and that, labels containing the word Glenlivet did not intend to pass the liquid as whisky from the actual Glenlivet distillery. An out of court settlement was reached and the Smith family were allowed to use the name The Glenlivet on their labels while everyone else could hyphenate their names with '-Glenlivet'.
The distillery remained opened during the whisky boom (1860-1897) and the Pattison crisis in 1898. It remained operational during the First World War, during the prohibition and even during the Second World War. It was after WWII came to an end that The Glenlivet whisky grew massively in popularity in the US market.
After a couple of mergers in the 1950's and early 1970's the distillery was acquired by industry giant Seagram's in 1977. When the giant imploded, Pernod Ricard acquired the distillery. The Glenlivet is the best selling whisky in the US and it is among the top 5 best selling single malts world wide.