In the mid-1800s, a large numbers of German immigrants arrived to St. Louis, mainly due to political upheavals in Germany and Bohemia in 1848. With the large migration of Germans to St. Louis, soon the principal industry in the area was brewing beer.
These immigrant brewers introduced a new style of beer to the United States: Lager. Lager beer requires more time and care when brewing. Lager comes from the German word “lagern”, meaning ‘to rest’. Brewers would store the beer in wooden casks, in underground caverns and caves. By the mid-1800s, there were more than 50 breweries in this area.
Eberhard Anheuser meets Adolphus Busch
Eberhard Anheuser, who left Germany in 1843, settling first in Cincinnati and before moving to St. Louis. Trained as a soap manufacturer, he eventually went on to own the largest soap and candle company in St. Louis. Although he had no brewing experience, he became part owner of the Bavarian Brewery, which had first opened its doors in 1852. By 1860, Anheuser had bought out the other investors and the brewery’s name was changed to E. Anheuser & Co.
Adolphus Busch was born in 1839, the second youngest of 22 children. At age 18, he made his way to St. Louis via New Orleans and the Mississippi River. Adolphus began working as a clerk on the riverfront and by the time he was 21, he had a partnership in a brewing supply business.
It was through this enterprise that Adolphus Busch met Eberhard Anheuser, and soon Adolphus was introduced to Eberhard’s daughter, Lilly. In 1861, Adolphus Busch and Lilly Anheuser were married, and shortly after that, Adolphus went to work for his father-in-law. He later purchased half ownership in the brewery, becoming a partner.
At that time, most beer in the United States was sold in the community in which it was brewed. Adolphus was determined to create a brand that would transcend the tradition of local brews and appeal to the tastes of many different people. In 1876, he and his friend, Carl Conrad, created an American-style lager beer that succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations. Adolphus coined the label “Budweiser”, a name that would appeal to German immigrants like himself, yet could be easily pronounced by Americans. Budweiser was a success and eventually, became the company’s flagship brand.
In the early 1870s, Adolphus Busch became the first American brewer to use pasteurization, which allowed beer to be shipped long distances without spoiling. By the mid-1870s and early 1880s, he introduced artificial refrigeration, refrigerated railcars and rail-side icehouses. These technological innovations allowed the company to grow – now, it could distribute beer across the country. Budweiser was the first national beer brand, introduced in 1876. Twenty years later, Busch introduced Michelob, America’s first specialty beer. To market his beers, Busch used traditional, proven selling methods but in a far more organized and deliberate manner than his competitors. He pioneered the use of giveaways and premiums, and used his brewery as a showplace for the public to visit.
In 1879, the company was renamed the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Association to recognize Adolphus’ efforts. The following year, upon the death of Eberhard Anheuser, Adolphus became president of the brewery. In 1901, the company broke the 1 million barrels of beer sales mark for the first time, making it one of the nation’s leading breweries. Adolphus Busch died in 1913 and was succeeded by his son, August A. Busch, Sr., who became president of the brewery in 1913.
The brewery’s bleakest period began at midnight on Jan. 16, 1920, when national Prohibition became law. Rather than close its doors, as more than half of the nation’s breweries did, Anheuser-Busch diversified and remained in business.
Under the leadership of August Sr., the company marketed more than 25 different non-alcohol products such as soft drinks, truck bodies and ice cream. In preparation for Prohibition, Anheuser-Busch released Bevo, a non-alcohol cereal beverage, in 1916. On April 7, 1933, beer was re-legalized.
Recovery from Prohibition was slow but steady under Adolphus Busch III, who became president of the company in 1934, upon the death of his father, August Sr.
Economic conditions caused by the Great Depression also restrained growth, but, thanks in part to the introduction of the metal can in 1936, sales began to climb. By 1938, Anheuser-Busch hit the 2 million barrel mark. During World War II, the company diverted many of its operations in support of the war effort, voluntarily relinquishing its West Coast markets to conserve railcar space for war materials shipments.
An era of growth
Following the war, America and Anheuser-Busch experienced an era of growth and prosperity throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In 1946, August A. Busch, Jr. became president of the company following the death of his brother, Adolphus III. Beginning with the opening of the Newark, N.J. facility in 1951, August Jr. created a national network of nine breweries.
Under his leadership, beer sales increased from 3 million barrels to more than 34 million barrels, and corporate diversification was extended to include family entertainment, industrial products, real estate and can manufacturing. In 1957, Anheuser-Busch became the leading U.S. brewer, a position it retains today.
August A. Busch III was elected president of Anheuser-Busch, Inc. in 1974, and the next year succeeded his father, August Jr., as chief executive officer, becoming the fourth generation of the family to lead Anheuser-Busch. August III led the company to build four additional breweries, expand the family entertainment business, and significantly strengthen the company’s horizontal and vertical integration.
In 1982, the company introduced Bud Light nationally, which grew quickly in popularity and today is one of the world’s bestselling beer brands.
In 2008, Anheuser-Busch and InBev combined to become Anheuser-Busch InBev. The new company is the world’s largest brewer and one of the top 5 consumer goods companies in the world.