Adolphus Busch, the founder and Patriarch of the Anheuser-Busch brewing company, is easily one of my favorite, unsung heroes from the history of industrialization in America.

Emigrating to America as an 18 year old in 1857, Adolphus Busch was one of millions of German immigrants entering America as part of the “Teutonic tide.” The second youngest of 22 (!) children, Busch started as a clerk on a river boat, and eventually worked his way into the brewery supply business. In an epochal event, at least in the eyes of the brewery business, he would make a business acquaintance of Eberhard Anheuser, a customer and brewery owner. Busch would eventually fall in love with Anheuser's daughter Lilly, marrying her by 1861.

Busch’s father in law eventually passed away, leaving Busch and his wife enough shares to acquire a controlling interest in Anheuser’s struggling business. The first problem he needed to solve was the product. Operating in a market with hundreds of substitutes, Busch understood the importance of creating an element of intrigue about his beer. He acquired the recipe of a little known, but locally sensational pale lager brewed in small Bohemain village named Budweis. Busch then advertised far and wide that his beer was brewed according to the time-tested practices which have been perfected over hundreds of years, and named his product Budweiser.

More forward thinking than most, Busch pioneered many technologies that helped industrialized America. He is one of the first major producers to embrace pasteurization, allowing his beer to stay fresh while travelling great distances. He also invested and developed a network of icehouses, and later refrigerated rail cars, to further extend the reach and inventory life of his product.

With an eye for constantly improving his operations, Busch was a pioneer in vertical integration along with Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. He acquired rail car manufacturers to produce his own fleet of 250 refrigerated rolling stock. He purchased his own bottling companies. His acquired two coal mines to power his plants and laid railroad lines to connect them to his facilities. In a play that eventually became extremely controversial with anti-alcohol crusaders, he also acquired a large network of saloons, and entered agreements with others, to become exclusive sellers of Anheuser-Busch products. Busch was able to sell his beer wider and cheaper than anyone ever before.

Busch also understood the power of eye-catching advertisements. He put a dramatic, large-than-life painting of Custer’s last stand in his Anheuser-Busch taverns, and made sure the painting contained extra action and gore to fascinate his male patrons. He also commissioned to have 150,000 prints of the artwork with a Budweiser logo placed in restaurants, hotels, taverns and other purveyors of suds.

A visionary who was always searching for the next big innovation, Busch recognized the groundbreaking import of a new invention by a German named Rudolph Diesel. Recognizing the cost-saving opportunities presented by an engine that was far more efficient and economical than a steam engine, Busch immediately purchased the rights to use the engine in America and Canadian, and organized a new firm around the diesel engine. Busch’s breweries were using diesel engines before any other American business.

Busch’s gigantic accomplishments were complemented by his larger-than-life style. He built grandiose mansions in St. Louis, Cooperstown, New York, and Pasadena, California. He employed armies of gardeners to maintain impressive topiary sculptures and gardens. Proud of his wealth and success, Busch bought his own luxury railcar, dubbed a “palace on wheels,” and built a personal railroad spur so it could roll right up to his mansion.

Busch’s prodigious success and unapologetic enjoyment of his wealth made him the enemy of progressives and prohibitionists, who saw his ability to bring affordable and popular beer to the masses as a threat to their vision of imposing widespread industrial controls and teetotaling mores on society. Given his vast commercial footprint in saloons, breweries and transportation, Busch became a target the progressives wanted to make an example of.

Busch defended the freedom to enjoy his product responsibly in stark moral terms. The freedom to enjoy Budweiser was “a natural right to be guarded and defended at any cost.” Legislation to ban beer was an “insolent tyranny of the most odious kind.” In response to the critics who blamed him and his products for alleged widespread drunkenness, Busch retorted that his product is not evil but “evil is only in the man who misuses them.”

Although Busch’s legacy lives on today in beer commercials, refrigerators and a multinational brand, Busch passed away in 1913, before his children, grandchildren and company faced a long battle with Prohibition and a rise of anti-German hysteria fueled by World War I. Tens of thousands of individuals came to pay their respects, and supposedly 100,000 lined the streets as he was carried to his place of burial.

Busch’s grave was fittingly grandiose, as was the man. He was buried in a $250,000 pink granite mausoleum decorated by elaborate gargoyles on all sides. Carved in the structure in big bold letters was the big bold quote from Julius Caesar: “Veni, Vidi, Vici.” I came, I saw, I conquer. That is how Busch lived, and even in death he remained a giant.

Reposted from a few years ago. Main source of information is William Knoedelseder’s Bitter Brew, chapter 1.


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