Originally known as Walker's Kilmarnock Whisky, the brand is a legacy left by John ‘Johnnie’ Walker after he started to sell whisky in his grocer’s shop in Ayrshire, Scotland. The brand became popular, but after Walker's death in 1857 it was his son Alexander Walker and grandson Alexander Walker II who were largely responsible for establishing the whisky as a popular brand. Under John Walker, whisky sales represented eight percent of the firm’s income; by the time Alexander was ready to pass on the company to his own sons, that figure had increased to between 90 and 95 percent.
Prior to 1860 it was illegal to sell blended (malt and grain mixed together) whisky. During that time John Walker sold a number of whiskys — notably his own Walker’s Kilmarnock. In 1865 John’s son Alexander produced their first blend, Walker’s Old Highland.
Alexander Walker first introduced the iconic square bottle in 1870. The other identifying characteristic of the bottle is the label, which is applied at an angle of 24 degrees.
From 1906–1909 John’s grandsons George and Alexander II expanded the line and introduced the colour names. In 1908, when James Stevenson was the Managing Director, there was a re-branding of sorts. The whisky was renamed from Walker's Kilmarnock Whiskies to Johnnie Walker Whisky. In addition, the slogan, "Born 1820 – Still going Strong!" was created, along with the Striding Man, a figure used in their advertisements for around fifty years.
They dropped Johnnie Walker White during World War I. In 1932, Alexander II added Johnnie Walker Swing to the line.
Johnnie Walker continues to be blended in Kilmarnock, with a large plant just north of the town's railway station. The historic bonded warehouses and company offices (now local authority) can still be seen in Strand Street and John Finnie Street.