The bitter taste of success: the rise and fall of the Anheuser-Busch brewing empire

Nov 19, 2012

Anheuser-Busch Agrees To Increased Offer From Belgian Company InBev

Wooden beer cases are seen on display inside a stable for the Budweiser Clydesdales during an Anheuser-Busch Cos. brewery tour. Credit: Whitney Curtis/Getty Images

The saga of Budweiser and Anheuser-Busch is a classic parable of the rise, international domination and eventual disillusionment of the American industrial age. Like most classic American success stories, the chronicle of “The King of Beers” began with an immigrant, in this case, Adolphus Busch, who arrived in St. Louis, Missouri from Germany in 1859 and bought a struggling brewery.

Over ensuing generations, the Busch family built an empire by revolutionizing the mass production, distribution and marketing of beer – the world’s most popular beverage. Adolphus’ son August A. deftly guided Budweiser through Prohibition and established Budweiser as America’s first national beer brand. August Jr. bought the St. Louis Cardinals and forged an indelible link between sports and beer that exists to this very day. August III streamlined the company for a new business age and helped launch the profitable light beer craze.

But it was August IV’s lack of business acumen that led to America’s premier beer being bought by foreign investors in 2008, ending a legacy of American dominance in the brewing industry. Renowned journalist William Knoedelseder documents the 149-year saga of the business of Budweiser – as well as the trappings, tragedy and drama of a family blessed and cursed by untold wealth in his new book, “Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America’s Kings of Beer.”

How does unparalleled success change a business – and the family that runs it? What can American businesses do to compete in the world economy?


William Knoedelseder, author of “Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America’s Kings of Beer” (Harper Collins 2012)

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