Raise a glass to Adolphus Busch
In 1929, Gerald Holland wrote in the American Mercury magazine, “whatever odium may be attached to beer in other parts of the Republic, its status in St. Louis is as firmly grounded as James Eads’ span across the Mississippi... beer made St. Louis.”
And he was right. There has not been a time in St. Louis’ history as a frontier station, fur-trading outpost, hard-living river town and gateway to the West that there has not been beer in the city. Dating back to 1809, when a man named John Coons set up a primitive brewery on the riverfront, and continuing today, St. Louis is a city where beer is king. Over two hundred breweries have existed in and around St. Louis during the past two centuries. Many were small, long-forgotten operations that lasted only a few years while others grew to be national, and international, companies that are still in existence today. To ghost enthusiasts, the most famous beer in St. Louis history was, of course, made by the Lemp family, but the greatest surviving brewery of the “golden age” is undoubtedly Anheuser-Busch.
The company really got its start under another name entirely – Hammer and Urban. They were a small contender among the city’s 49 breweries in 1860. The brewery’s production capacity far exceeded the demand for its product and the partners were forced into bankruptcy. During the legal proceedings that followed, two of the brewery’s creditors took over its operations. E. Anheuser and Company, the new operator, was made up of a partnership between Eberhard Anheuser, a successful candle and soap maker, and William D’Oench, a wholesale medicine supplier. They called it the Bavarian Brewery but neither man had much of an idea of what to do with it. D’Oench quickly turned over control to Anheuser and as luck would have it, the Civil War (and the hard drinking soldiers in St. Louis) turned it into a lucrative business, despite the poor quality of the beer they were making.
When the war ended, though, he knew he was in trouble. His partner had sold out in 1864, leaving Anheuser to run the brewery on his own. Anheuser had never claimed to be a master brewer. He knew everything there was to know about making soap, but beer remained a mystery to him. Union troops and thirsty laborers had been willing to drink his beer but the discriminating Germans of St. Louis didn’t want any part of it. They didn’t have to settle for a mediocre brew when there were a dozen other breweries in the city turning out far superior lager for the same price.
While Anheuser may not have known much about beer, he had become rich by knowing how to run a business. He knew that he needed help right away and he knew where to find it – with his talented and charismatic son-in-law, Adolphus Busch.
Adolphus Busch arrived in St. Louis in 1857 and found his first employment among the commission houses on the levee. Born in Germany on July 10, 1839, Busch was the well-educated son of a successful businessman. The second-youngest of twenty-two children, some of them half-siblings, he attended school at the Gymnasium of Mainz, the Academy of Darmstadt and the Collegiate Institute of Brussels. He spoke, in addition to German, fluent French and English and was proficient in Italian and Spanish, as well. Within a couple of years, he began specializing in malts and hops and as a supplier to Eberhard Anheuser, he came to admire Anheuser’s blonde, curly-haired daughter, Elisa, known as “Lilly.” On March 7, 1861, Adolphus and seventeen-year-old Lilly were married in a double-ring ceremony with Adolphus’ brother, Ulrich Busch, Jr., and Lilly’s sister, Anna. Legend has it Adolphus was twenty minutes late for the wedding because he had stopped to close a business deal. Despite the inauspicious start to their union, Adolphus and Lilly went on to have fourteen children, nine of whom survived to adulthood. Shortly after the wedding, Ulrich and Anna moved to Chicago, where Ulrich went into the brewery supply business. Adolphus enlisted in the Union Army, where he joined up with one of the regiments from the south side of the city and was sent to fight in southern and western Missouri. When he returned to St. Louis, he went back into the supply business and in 1864 he began working part-time as a salesman for the Bavarian Brewery.
Adolphus Busch and Elisa “Lilly” Anheuser Busch
In 1869, he sold his shares of the supply company and used the funds to buy into the Bavarian Brewery. The company was restructured, with Anheuser continuing as president and Busch becoming secretary. Anheuser turned most of his attention back to soap manufacturing and placed the management of the brewery into the hands of his capable son-in-law. In five years, Busch increased the production of beer from eight thousand barrels per year to eighteen thousand. Busch also seized upon many of the latest scientific and industrial innovations including pasteurization, which allowed the brewery to package, ship and store beer with a much longer shelf life, and artificial refrigeration, which allowed brewers to store beer in warehouses, making the lagering caves obsolete. Under Busch’s guidance, the brewery began bottling its beer in 1872. In 1883, Busch would become a full partner in the company and its name would be changed to the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Association.
In those days, brewing was still a local industry but there was a huge amount of money to be made in St. Louis. Busch was determined to corner the market. Unfortunately, he could not make claim to having the best brew in town; that honor was held by the Lemp family. However, even bad beer, if marketed correctly, could make the brewery a huge amount of money. In those days, the sales strategy for beer revolved around the “beer collector,” who bought beer but did not sell it. All brewers had such spending agents, but Busch gathered together an accomplished group of men and soon his beer was selling as well as the Falstaff brand from the Lemp brewery. Every saloon that sold Busch beer was favored by a visit from the collector once each month. He would travel from saloon to saloon, spending an amount proportionate to the saloon’s monthly beer purchase. This made the collector an important person with high social standing among men from all walks of life; indeed it was the habit of loafers to follow the beer collector’s carriage from saloon to saloon, hoping to be treated to free drinks at each stop. The usual protocol was for the beer collector to buy a man a Busch beer as long as that man turned around and bought two more for himself and his friends.
Busch was a consummate salesman who became known for his clever and innovative advertising. He gave away watch fobs, chinaware and other Victorian-era novelties advertising his product. Among the promotional items was a jackknife that doubled as a corkscrew, a useful item since beer at that time was corked rather than capped. On the handle was the E. Anheuser & Co. logo and at one end was a peephole through which could be viewed a portrait of Adolphus Busch. Another popular promotional item was a tray embellished with a picture of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery with flags flying proudly from every cupola and tower. Seated in a prominent spot was a zaftig young lady with a modest wisp of veil covering her lap, her pulchritude winsomely promoting the virtues of Busch beer.
One of the original “Bud” girls – seductive advertising for the late nineteenth century
During the years that the breweries were running at full stream, there was probably more beer consumed in St. Louis than in any other city of its size in the world. With beer sold at a nickel a glass (which also included the customary free lunch), it was a luxury that was within the reach of almost everyone.
Despite all his ingenious plans and clever marketing schemes, Busch was still trailing the Lemps in popularity and sales when the great beer revolution began and it became possible to bottle beer for a longer shelf life. Busch immediately installed bottling facilities at its brewery. Soon, though, it would be a brand of beer that would bring even great acclaim to Busch and his thriving brewery.
In 1876, Budweiser lager beer came on the market, brewed by the Anheuser brewery and bottled by Carl Conrad, a local wine and liquor merchant. It went largely unnoticed at first. According to the story, Conrad was traveling in Europe in the early 1870s and dined in a small Bohemian monastery, where he was served the most wonderful beer he had ever tasted. He offered to buy the recipe from the monks but they gladly gave it to him for free. After returning to America, he asked his friend Adolphus Busch to make the beer for him. It was dubbed “Budweiser” after the small town of Budweis where Conrad had discovered it. He bottled the beer that Busch made for him and sold it in his shop. Not long after, he ran into financial trouble and borrowed money from Busch to stay afloat. In January 1883, he declared bankruptcy and licensed the Budweiser name, bottling and marketing rights to the Anheuser-Busch brewery. Busch had been his largest creditor and had a $94,000 lien on his property. In January 1891, Busch legally acquired all rights to the Budweiser name and trademark and Conrad, with whom Busch maintained a lifelong friendship, joined Anheuser-Busch as a technician.
Budweiser was different from the other beers being produced because it was brewed with rice rather than corn grits for natural carbonation. It was then subjected to a second fermentation process and aged, as a true lager must be. Despite its higher price, it was soon in such demand that Busch was scarcely able to get enough bottles to its suppliers. So, the brewery invested in glass factories. Busch founded the Adolphus Busch Glass Factory of St. Louis and Belleville, Illinois, and the Streator Glass Company of Streator, Illinois, remaining chief stockholder in both to keep the cost advantage for the brewery.
A Budweiser bottle from the 1870s
Now, Busch not only had bottled beer to sell, but he had the best bottled beer in the country. His innovations were disastrous to the small breweries that were left in St. Louis and by 1900, only nineteen of them remained. Brewing had changed from a neighborhood business to one with the potential to reach markets everywhere, which is just what Busch began to do. While his competitors in St. Louis were struggling, he invested deeply and became a “traveling ambassador of beer.”
The genial mustachioed Busch was impeccably dressed and portly, as befitted a successful man of his day. While he appeared dignified he wasn’t a bit snobbish and had friends from all ranks of society. He loved a good laugh and didn’t mind poking fun at himself. He especially enjoyed pulling pranks on his friend and frequent traveling companion, St. Louis restaurant owner Tony Faust. One time, the two of them were in a restaurant in France. Busch, who spoke French, was teaching his friend how to order a meal. When they finished dining, Faust asked what he should say to ask the waiter for cigars. Bush spoke a phrase in French and Faust repeated it to the waiter, who obligingly brought Faust the check. Busch roared with laughter and his friend realized he’d been had.
Word of Budweiser beer began to spread and Busch began marketing and advertising in every state in the growing nation. The plant in St. Louis began to expand, employing as many as 7,500 men. Each year, Anheuser-Busch produced 1.6 million barrels of beer. Nearly all was consumed in the United States, but even the small amount sent abroad exceeded the entire sales, domestic and foreign, of most of the company’s rivals.
Busch continued to expand and bought railroads, a coal mine and several hotels, all to further the cause of his beer. He had agents in every major city and owned property in every state in the union. With Budweiser now the chief product of the brewery, he reduced his sixteen brands to just four: Budweiser, Michelob, Faust and the standard pale beer. At that time, Michelob was the finest beer being made in America and was also the most expensive at twenty-five cents a glass. Like Budweiser, it originated in Bohemia, and it was Adolphus himself who discovered it. He bought a glass of beer one day for the equivalent of a few cents and it struck him as being even better than Budweiser. He returned home and ordered his staff to duplicate it. Michelob was the result, but it cost so much that sales were always low. This brand would not be bottled for many years. The Faust brand was named in honor of Tony Faust. One of Busch’s daughters, Anna Louise, later married Faust’s son, Edward.
Eberhard Anheuser died in 1880, stunned by the success that his son-in-law had achieved. At the time of his death, only the Lemps could continue to compete with Anheuser-Busch. They had also expanded into national distribution and, like Busch, were using refrigerated railroad cars to ship their acclaimed Falstaff brand across the country. The two companies battled for domination in the market for years but by the middle 1880s, the Lemp Brewing Company had started to fall behind. Anheuser-Busch soon had no true rivals in St. Louis – but the same could not be said on a national level.
In the late 1800s, worldwide competition for medals at expositions and fairs was fierce. At the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893, regarded by brewers as the most prestigious competition of the century, the rivalry between Busch and his closest competitor came to a head. At the time, the Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee (operated by Frederick Pabst, a close friend and relative by marriage of William Lemp) was the largest in the United States, with Anheuser-Busch a close second. At one point in the competition, Anheuser-Busch had been awarded six medals for its beer and Pabst had received five. The grand prize was still to be awarded and the judges’ scrutiny was intense. A dispute began over the makeup of the panel of judges and the method they were using of awarding points. The brewers, interested only in product quality, were upset that points were to be given for “commercial importance.”
Ultimately, Budweiser was given the highest award over Pabst’s Blue Ribbon beer but the decision was later reversed based on a chemical analysis that showed Budweiser contained impurities. The award was then given to Pabst. Outraged, the hot-tempered Busch appealed the decision, angering the exposition commissioners so much that they decided that no award would be given at all. After Busch threatened legal action, the commission reversed itself again and gave the award to Budweiser. Pabst complained and, after yet another reversal, he was declared the winner.
Adolphus Busch was bitter over what he felt was unfair judging at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. After a reversal, he lost out to his closest competitor, Pabst in Milwaukee. His anger over the judging caused him not to enter any beers in the competition at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.
Enraged, Busch pursued one of the judges across Europe to try and get him to change his mind. In late 1894, the commission announced its refusal to reconsider the decision. Busch sputtered in rage in the newspapers, “Prizes are not given to the goods meriting same but are secured by money and strategy.” This statement offers a hint as to why no Anheuser-Busch products were presented for judging during the World’s Fair held in St. Louis in 1904.
The controversy over the judging at the Columbian Exposition certainly didn’t damage Anheuser-Busch’s business. In fact, it helped it and the brewery continued to expand. As Busch made more and more money, he began to spend it quite freely. He maintained his family in luxury and constructed a mansion known as No. 1 Busch Place. It was located in a park-like section of the 142-acre brewery grounds. The spacious rooms were known for their color schemes -- the Rose Room, the Green Room, the Blue Room, etc. On the gleaming parquet floors were dazzling Oriental rugs. Stained glass windows admitted filtered light, and walls, tables and shelves were jammed with a massive array of art objects, as was the fashion of the time. As was fitting for the home of a merchant prince, expensive imported furniture filled every inch of space and frescoed ceilings, antique tapestries and artwork added to the overall majesty of the decor. Murals of plump, scantily clad women appeared to float across the ceiling of the main salon, where the walls were covered with paintings from some of the prominent artists of the day. Busch was one of the first to recognize the talents of American landscape artist William Keith. He was also an admirer of John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler.
Anyone of note who visited St. Louis visited with the Busch family, including Enrico Caruso, Theodore Roosevelt, Edward, Prince of Wales, and many others. They often entertained local friends and held grand parties at the house. The exuberant Busch loved children and holidays. Every year, during the first week of December, a brewery watchman dressed as St. Nicholas visited the Busch children, filling their stockings with fruit and treats to start the holiday season. On Christmas Eve, a huge tree on a revolving stand was the center of activity for everyone. Easter brought even more festivity when Busch decided to have an egg hunt for his and his neighbors’ children. It turned out to be a huge success and each year brought ever-larger numbers of “neighbor” children until the event was eventually moved to Forest Park.
Busch loved animals, especially horses, as is evidenced by the brewery’s enduring reputation for its outstanding Clydesdales. It was in Adolphus’ day that teams of the majestic, high-stepping animals first pulled the red and green Busch delivery wagons. Busch worried so much about the care of horses that he could not stand to think of his guests’ carriage horses standing outside in bad weather. After the passengers had been discharged, Busch gave orders for the carriages to be driven into a large rotunda in the carriage house. There the horses were comfortably stabled and the coachmen could relax in a recreation room, where plenty of food and Budweiser beer were kept on hand.
Busch maintained one of the finest stables of riding and carriage horses in the United States. The stable building, located just across the drive from 1 Busch Place, could house up to thirty horses at a time. He also kept a large collection of wheeled conveyances: carriages, coaches, barouches, landaus, shooting wagons and the like. Sets of gold- and silver-mounted harnesses were displayed in glass cases along the stable walls.
In the early 1900s, Busch also became interested in the “horseless carriage” and developed a fascination for motorcars. He commissioned one of the first automobiles in St. Louis, an ornate Pope-Toledo with a specially built wicker body and brass fittings.
The Busch family lived in sumptuous luxury but unlike some of the tycoons of his day who were notoriously tightfisted, Adolphus was gave freely of his fortune. His gifts included large donations to Washington University in St. Louis and to Harvard. He contributed relief funds to the victims of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and every Groundhog Day, he gave $5,000 to a convent in St. Louis. He also gave freely to charities in Germany, a habit that would come back to haunt the family with the advent of the First World War.
Employees of Anheuser-Busch lived well. Not only did the brewery pay a good wage, every man was entitled to a generous portion of free beer each day, which he was expected to drink. The trips to the keg were seen as an important part of the day’s routine, an affirmation of the employees’ dedication to their product. It was thought that a man needed a certain amount of beer each day to maintain good work habits and vigorous health. One man was actually thrown out of the brewers’ union for failing to drink his daily quota of beer. He took his case to court and it was decided that it wasn’t necessary to drink beer in order to do a good day’s work. Union members shook their heads in disbelief, but the man was reinstated.
The Anheuser-Busch Brewery
The new century got off to a great start for Anheuser-Busch. In 1901, it finally overtook the annual production levels of Pabst. With preparations being made in St. Louis for the World’s Fair in 1904, Busch accepted the position of fair director. Many of the local brewers, led by Busch, came together to create a gigantic entertainment venue -- a replica of the Tyrolean Alps. Located at the end of the “Pike,” next to the main entrance, the Alps covered more than six acres of Forest Park and proved to be among the fair’s most popular attractions. But behind the scenes there were numerous disputes between the operators of the Alps and the fair’s management, including issues of trash pickup, blocking of the service entrance by railroad cars, squabbles over the width of the walkways and the amount of water and electricity used by the attraction. The problems festered all summer, leading to Busch’s resignation as the fair’s director in November 1904.
After the fair closed down, most of the state and national buildings were sold off or demolished. Busch purchased the Belgium national building and had it moved onto the brewery property, where it was reconstructed for use by the Adolphus Busch Glass Manufacturing Company.
Busch’s hard work and generosity led to him being popular with the people of St. Louis, especially the lower and middle classes. In spite of his vast wealth, he encountered coolness from members of the city’s upper crust, who refused to accept the brash German as one of their own. But Busch couldn’t have cared less. He gathered his own circle of friends around him and managed to stay in the good graces of those who were buying his beer.
By the Buschs’ golden wedding anniversary in 1911, most of the daily operations of the brewery had been turned over their son, August. He had become so skilled in running the company’s business affairs that Adolphus and Lilly had time to indulge their love of travel. They toured Europe and visited many parts of the U.S., spending considerable time in their houses in Pasadena, California, and Cooperstown, New York.
Adolphus and Lilly wanted to make sure that each of their eight surviving children had their own home. Their eldest son, Adolphus Busch, Jr., nicknamed “Bulfy,” had died of a perforated appendix in 1898. He had been named a corporate director at twenty-one and if he had lived, he might have taken over the company. August and his wife, Alice, received a grand home that had been built at Grant’s Farm, southwest of St. Louis, the former home of Ulysses S. Grant; Edmee Reisinger and her husband, Hugo, received a mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York; Clara von Gotard, who was married to Baron Paul von Gotard, was given a mansion in Berlin, Germany; Mrs. J.W. Loeb received a home near Lincoln Park in Chicago; and Mrs. Edward A. Scharrer was given a house in Stuttgart, Germany.
There was a huge celebration in St. Louis to mark the Buschs’ anniversary, although Adolphus and Lilly were unable to attend. They were in Pasadena at the time, where Busch was seriously ill. Some thirteen thousand employees and friends celebrated in their absence. The brewery was closed for the day and all five thousand employees had been given the day off with pay. The party took place at the Coliseum, where a fifty-piece band played and employees paraded, sang, danced and waved flags. Lights gleamed on a center fountain that fired off a thirty-foot jet of water and the crowd partied into the night. It was reported that more than forty thousand bottles of beer were consumed, along with 100,000 sandwiches. The Buschs’ well-wishers sent them a solid gold card of congratulations. President William Howard Taft sent the couple a $20 gold piece. Former President Theodore Roosevelt one-upped him by giving them a gold loving cup.
By this time, the storm clouds of Prohibition were already starting to gather and Anheuser-Busch, along with other national brewers, began working to separate the various beer-makers from the hard liquor industry in the minds of lawmakers and temperance supporters. They eventually failed at this although they did manage to start producing low-alcohol and non-alcoholic beers. Anheuser-Busch trademarked the Bevo brand, a non-intoxicating malt-based beverage, in 1908.
Unfortunately, Busch’s health did not improve. He had suffered from dropsy, as edema was then called, since 1906. In October 1913, he and Lilly traveled to Langenschwalbach, Germany, for a stay at Villa Lilly, one of their two homes on the Rhine. He hoped that the brisk autumn weather would improve his health but it did no good. On October 10, at the age of 74, Busch suffered a heart attack while sitting at his desk. He died peacefully a few hours later. His body was returned to St. Louis and a viewing was held at No. 1 Busch Place.
A final farewell was said to Busch at the house where he had welcomed dignitaries and common people alike. It took twenty-five trucks to haul all of the funeral flowers to the cemetery. A crowd of nearly 25,000 people gathered around the brewery to pay their last respects.
The funeral procession left No. 1 Busch Place and departed for Bellefontaine Cemetery. St. Louis residents solidly lined the route. Mayor Henry Kiel requested that all business in the city be halted for five minutes during the burial. The Jefferson Hotel and the Planter’s House turned off their lights during that interval and all of the city’s streetcars were stopped. A committee of Busch employees was granted permission to carry the casket through the brewery and along the route that Adolphus had once walked to work each day. Busch was laid to rest in an ornate mausoleum resembling a miniature cathedral, complete with gargoyles and with its own watering system for plants and bushes.
Charles Nagel, one of the leading citizens of St. Louis, gave the eulogy. He was joined by a number of other honored guests, including congressmen, the presidents of Harvard and the University of Missouri and Baron von Lesner, the personal representative of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who was a longtime friend of Busch. Nagel called Busch “a giant among men. Like a descendant of one of the great and vigorous ancient gods, he rested among us and with his optimism, his far seeing vision, his undaunted courage and his energy, shaped the affairs of men.”
The elaborate Busch mausoleum at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis
After Busch’s death, Lilly divided her time between Europe and California, with only occasional stops in St. Louis. The house was seldom used and after her death in 1928, the Busch children divided the contents and it was closed up for good. It was finally demolished to expand the brewery in 1929.
August A. Busch, Sr., who had been running the company for several years, continued the growth and the expansion of the brewery until the outbreak of World War I. By 1917, the United States had entered the conflict, which brought dark times to the family. The two countries to which the Buschs were devoted were now at war. Lilly Busch was actually in Germany when America entered the war and it took former senator Harry Hawes seven and a half months to get her home. The brewery was handicapped by rumors that the Busch family was pro-German. Despite purchases of large amounts of Liberty Bonds by the company and by the family, the malicious stories refused to go away. The Busch family, as well as the scores of Germans living in St. Louis, were kept under close watch but they managed to weather the storm of the war.
And then something worse came along.
By the late 1910s, Anheuser-Busch, like breweries all across America, was confronted by Prohibition. In an effort to combat the growing threat against beer sales and production, Busch filled the newspapers with ads in favor of personal liberty. But all the while, the company prepared for the inevitable. It stepped up production of Bevo, which was being sold all over the world by 1919. One year before, production of real beer had stopped, so there seemed to be little cause for concern about Prohibition. No one realized at the time that the disappearance of real beer would largely destroy the demand for “near-beer” products like Bevo. Just because liquor was illegal, it was certainly not hard to get. The horrible taste of bootleg hard liquor was usually so bad that it had to be disguised, which brought about the creation of sweet mixed drinks. People who became accustomed to the taste of these syrupy new drinks often lost the taste for the tart flavor of beer, or in this case, near-beer. And with real beer being illegally produced by bootleggers, the good stuff was still easy enough to get. So, why drink non-alcoholic beer when you could get the real thing at the local speakeasy? By 1923, sales of Bevo fell off to almost nothing, causing grave concerns at Anheuser-Busch.
The early years of Prohibition were grim across St. Louis. The Lemp Brewery, the neighbor and chief local competitor of Anheuser-Busch, closed down and sold off its huge plant for a fraction of what it had been worth a few years before. August Busch refused to give up, though. He was determined to find a way to keep the company afloat until the Prohibition laws were repealed. A short time later, Anheuser-Busch began to produce truck bodies and refrigerator cabinets and they went into the yeast business. Their superior product soon gained control of the market and money began trickling back into the coffers again. They also began bottling soft drinks, including Busch Extra-Dry Ginger Ale, and canned malt syrup, which was often used illegally to make home brew by eager customers.
But Busch was not happy just holding the company together. He wanted to make beer and he loathed Prohibition. On his own, he began investigating the corruption and hypocrisy of the law and he made his findings public. He discovered that liquor was sold aboard American flagships and discovered the failures of law enforcement and outright graft within the ranks of the Anti-Saloon League. He pressed for a uniform and effective enforcement of the law as long as it was on the books. On the other hand, he used his attorneys to appeal to Presidents Coolidge and Hoover and to Congress to repeal the law. He insisted that law-abiding businessmen were suffering while lawbreakers flourished, as long as Prohibition was the law of the land. Busch supported just about any politician who stood against Prohibition and finally, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected in 1932. Roosevelt said he “wants repeal, and I am confident that the United States of America wants repeal.” Prohibition finally came to an end on April 7, 1933.
After Prohibition was repealed, Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales delivered a shipment of Budweiser to President Roosevelt at the White House. It was actually a re-enactment of the beer delivery, which had arrived by air to the president a short time earlier.
Under a permit to brew beer in advance of the date for its legal sale, Anheuser-Busch had 250,000 barrels ready and while they planned to resume business quietly, April 7 arrived in St. Louis like a combination of Mardi Gras and New Year’s Eve. A jubilant crowd surrounded the brewery as the gates were thrown open and a fleet of trucks rolled out to deliver the first supply of Budweiser to the city’s packed taverns. It was a great night in south St. Louis as August Busch had brought the old brewery from “doom to boom.”
Sadly, August A. Busch would not be around to enjoy the celebration for long. As the company began to enter a new period of growth, Busch’s life came to an end. He had suffered from several heart attacks during the hard years and was pained by gout and dropsy. On the night of February 13, 1934, in tremendous agony, he wrote a letter to his family, signed and sealed it, and then turned up the radio before shooting himself.
He was succeeded by Adolphus Busch III, known around the brewery simply as “The Third.” He was a retiring man who grappled with the problems the company faced during the Depression and World War II. He died after a short illness on August 29, 1946.
August A. Busch, Jr., or “Gussie” became the fourth Busch to become president of Anheuser-Busch and is remembered today as one of the most popular and outgoing members of the family. He carefully protected the company’s reputation and further expanded its image to make it one of the best known (or perhaps the best known) brewery in the world today. In 1953, when it was thought that the St. Louis Cardinals might be sold away from St. Louis, Gussie wrote the check that bought the baseball team and turned Sportsman’s Park into Busch Stadium.
And while the Busch family and the brewery continue to thrive in St. Louis today, the family has not been without its scandals and troubles over the years, from brushes with the law, death and even kidnappings. But through it all, they have managed to prosper and to build a great legacy in St. Louis.
FROM THE BOOK SUICIDE AND SPIRITS BY TROY TAYLOR