The Self-Made Man: Adolphus Busch

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Ah, beer. Even if you don’t drink, you can’t deny its impact on American culture. Beer is a symbol of relaxation and fun, and the kind of beer you drink tells people something about your personality; microbrew drinkers are snooty yuppies, PBR drinkers are either hipsters or broke, Coors Light drinkers lost their taste buds in a fire, etc.

busch2This week’s Self Made Man is one of the architects of American beer culture, a man who had an idea of a national beer with universal consumer appeal, a man with some of the best facial hair TSB has ever seen. I’m talking, of course, about Adolphus Busch, co-founder of Anheuser-Busch.

Adolphus was born in Germany at the bottom end of 22 children. His family worked brewery supplies, so it was only natural that he got into the business on his own. After attending college in Belgium, Adolphus emigrated to St. Louis with three of his brothers, one of whom had already established a brewery in Missouri.

While Adolphus was never a brewer in his own right—the joke once he got rich was that America’s beer magnate never knew how to make the stuff—he was one hell of a salesman, a skill he learned working as a commission house clerk, and later at a wholesale company. He also put that silver tongue to work on Lilly Anheuser (no, not that way, you perverts), daughter of established brewer Eberhard Anheuser.

Adolphus’ father died while his son was fighting for the Union in the Civil War, and Adolphus used his inheritance to start a wholesale brewer’s supply store and eventually buy into his father-in-law’s brewery, renaming it the Anheuser Busch Company after Eberhard’s death in 1880.

Adolphus’ salesmanship was shameless—he sent company representatives to every bar, wedding, and funeral in the St. Louis area to buy drinks and grow his brand—and he made sure that production was steady enough to keep up with his sales efforts. Even though Busch beer was so bad at one point that barflies used to spit it across the room as a matter of course, Adolphus’ business plan on all fronts was so relentless that he overcame that setback and prospered.

Certain technological innovations, and Adolphus’ early adoption of them, helped him get his beer to consumers, even those who lived beyond his local market. His was the first brewery to use refrigerated freight cars to ship beer around, and he was first on the pasteurization and bottled beer tips as well, and his instincts made him a very wealthy man. He was also able to brand his company’s beer as a national one since he was able to ship it all over the country.

I’ve asked you all to pour one out for important men before, but I think that request has more meaning when it concerns Adolphus Busch, without whom access to your favorite beer would be a lot more difficult.

I’ll leave you with this excerpt from Ken Burns’ Prohibition documentary which presents Adolphus as “the most interesting man in the world.


About Dave Kiefaber

Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.

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