Bud Light and its parent firm Anheuser Busch continue to dominate the headlines over the Dylan Mulvaney scandal – but its far from the only drama to roil the company since it began brewing beer in 1876.
Former owner Billy Busch’s book Family Reigns details the marriages, divorces, deaths and boardroom sagas that have rocked the firm – and ultimately saw his family lose control of their empire thanks to a 2008 hostile takeover.
Much of the drama came courtesy of Billy’s father, former chairman Augustus ‘Gussie’ Busch Jr, who served as chairman between 1946 and 1975 – and whose grandfather Adolphus Busch created the brand.
Gussie was a popular and charismatic figure, credited with transforming Anheuser Busch into the largest brewery in the world by 1957. He wed four times, and had 10 children – with his prolific baby-making substantially-diluting the once-mighty family dynasty.
Writing in Family Reigns, Billy said of his father: ‘He wears Gucci loafers and leaves the house each day festooned in a gold watch and gold rings. Everywhere the sun touched him, he sparkles.’
Billy also recalled growing up in the family’s 700-acre Grant’s Farm estate near St Louis, which Gussie owned.
He told of his excitement at hearing his father’s Mercedes rolling down the driveway of the property, saying it meant ‘The King of Beers was returning to his throne.’
August ‘Gussie’ Busch Jr, pictured in orange in 1982, steered Anheuser Busch to its greatest success while serving as chairman between 1946 and 1975 – but also diluted the dynasty’s power by marrying four times and having 10 children
Billy Busch, the great-grandson of legendary beer baron Adolphus Busch, has given an insight into his family’s iconic and tragic history
Writing from his perch atop one of America’s most iconic families, the 62-year-old Billy said: ‘Everything we know, everything we enjoyed, everything our ancestors bequeathed to us, would be undone.’
The all-powerful beer giant had the humblest of beginnings, when Adolphus Busch began working for his father-in-law Eberhard Anheuser’s brewery on his return from the Civil War in the 1860s.
On their way towards a billion-dollar empire, the Busch clan faced a slew of challenges, beginning with the time Adolphus and his brew master Carl Conrad travelled to Germany to ‘come up with an idea for the perfect beer.’
After chugging their way through Bavaria without success, they ended up in a small bohemian town called Budweis.
The duo found there was ‘no room in the inn’ when they came to the only hotel in the town, and they were forced to seek shelter in a monastery. When the monks shared their home brew, the cocktail became the legendary Budweiser recipe.
As noted by Billy, ‘Adolphus was a man determined to see his company reach the far ends of the earth.’ This drive saw him not only reach untold influence – it also pushed an entire nation forward.
By 1911, just five decades after Busch started brewing, the United States had overtaken beverage powerhouse Germany in beer production.
The family were happy to help the war effort during World War I, helping establish a reputation for patriotism that prevailed until recently.
During that conflict, Anheuser Busch’s Missouri factory was used to construct diesel engines for America’s submarine fleet.
As the family became more and more powerful, Billy said it was common for him and his siblings to hear his father quip: ‘What would Adolphus do?’
‘The answer resided in the history, the myth, the legacy that was our family lore,’ he added. ‘It was shorthand for a laundry list of values that drove the Busch family to success.’
The Busch family thrived for decades at Grant Farm (pictured) in St Louis, Missouri, when it commanded a beer empire worth billions of dollars
Members of the Busch family became some of the most influential people in America during the 20th century. August Busch Jr is pictured walking alongside President Harry S Truman in 1950
While the family business raked in billions, Billy Busch went on to become an established competitive polo player
It is no secret that the Busch family tree is littered with heartbreak – although a 1929 drama that befell the family highlights how their wealth presented them with a different set of problems.
On New Year’s Eve in 1930, Adolphus’ 13-year-old grandson Buppie Busch Orthwein was riding in the family limousine when it was targeted by a masked gunman, who threatened the driver out of the car before speeding away with the boy.
The kidnapping made front page news across America, and it was one of several high-profile incidents of rich children being taken for ransom at the time of the onset of the Great Depression.
Buppie was thankfully returned to his family after two days, without any injuries or demands being made for his safety. His kidnapper, a father-of-seven, was imprisoned.
August Busch Sr (pictured) was credited with steering the brand through prohibition before his tragic suicide in 1934
However, the kidnapping was only a precursor to a landmark moment in the family history, when August Anheuser Busch Sr, the man credited with steering the company through prohibition, committed suicide in 1934.
The tragedy came after he suffered from heart disease and gout for some time prior, leaving the old man crippled.
On one February night, the pain became too much and he asked his doctor, DR. P. E. Rutledge, to give him a single shot of morphine.
As Billy notes, his grandfather then asked his butler for his pearl-handled .32 caliber pistol.
With some abruptness, a shot rang out as soon as the butler turned his back, as August shot himself in the chest to put an end to his chronic pain.
He left a note reading: ‘Goodbye precious mommie and adorable children’, and his grandson writes that he succumbed to pain ‘beyond anything most people could bear in one lifetime’.
‘There are pills now that people can take for fluid retention, pain, and heart disease,’ he added. ‘I’d like to think that if he got the help he needed, he would have stuck around to see his company thrive.’
August Busch Jr, a colonel in the US military, is pictured atop his horse Dalchoolin, 1945
After taking the helm following August Sr’s tragic suicide and then his brother’s death in 1946, August Jr became affectionately known as ‘Gussie’ across America as he rode the wave of Anheuser Busch’s success.
He was known as a fun-loving, alpha male type who ran his businesses ruthlessly, which even saw him buy the St Louis Cardinals as a play against a competitor.
The Busch family tree expanded rapidly, thanks to Gussie’s fondness for getting married and divorced – but his behavior also watered down the dynasty.
Writing in family reigns, Billy pinpoints Gussie’s second divorce in 1952 as the moment that would ultimately lead to the family losing control of their dynasty.
But there were still decades of success to come.
Gussie Busch’s youngest child Christina, 8, tragically died in a horror car accident in 1974
Gussie cemented the brand’s place as the top brewer in the world, and it diversified into industries including real estate, raw materials processing and mass recycling.
However, his reign was brought to a dramatic head after the family was hit with another tragedy following the death of Gussie’s youngest child Christina, 8, in 1974.
She died in an eight-car pileup as she was being driven home from school, and shortly after her funeral, Gussie’s son August Busch III – known as Auggie – hatched a plot to take over the business.
Auggie – described as ‘intensive and competitive’ successfully deposed Gussie as chairman in 1975, when Auggie was just 37 years old.
While ruthless, Auggie was described by business associates as being ‘ahead of his time’ with understanding how mass-marketing and promotion could further build the family brand.
Gussie was blindsided by the move from his eldest son, who was seen as taking ‘what he thought was his rightful place as the head of Anheuser-Busch.’
‘Just when my dad thought he had been through enough and had lost all there was to lose, he found himself in the fight of his life and about to lose it all,’ writes Billy.
Adolphus Busch (pictured) founded the legendary company with his father-in-law Eberhard Anheuser in the 1860s
August ‘Auggie’ Busch Jr (left) pictured with St Louis Cardinals player Lou Brock
Control over the company was handed to August Busch IV in 2002, but the company struggled before it was swooped in a hostile takeover by Belgian brewer InBev
The tenure of August Busch IV at the helm of the company was marked by a number of bungled business moves, including the launch of alcoholic energy drink Spykes (pictured)
The iconic family is detailed in Billy Busch’s new book: ‘Family Reins: The rise and epic fall of an American dynasty’
In a move ‘the likes of which you would see on the television show Succession’, Auggie rallied the family against his own father Gussie, convincing them he had become senile.
By the end Gussie was left merely as ‘honorary chairman’, cast out from the company he had helped build.
As he lost control over his own legacy, Billy said he could see the decline tangibly affecting his formerly-world beating father Gussie.
‘I witnessed how the work energized him, gave him purpose, joy, and something to fight and live for,’ he wrote.
‘I also saw how tightly he held onto it, how he reacted and spiraled when it slipped from his grasp, and how strongly he railed against the injustice of it all being taken from his so cruelly in the end.’
While it was a monumental moment in the family dynamic, the move was far more than a father-son rivalry, with billions of dollars at stake.
After entering the turn of the century at the pinnacle of the nation’s brewing industry, Auggie – August III – ‘broke with tradition’ and handed a series of increasingly senior roles at the company to his son, August IV.
August IV had previously been mired in his own scandals, including a deadly 1983 car wreck which killed a 21 year-old woman who was a passenger in the car he was driving.
No charges were brought. And in 1985, he became embroiled in a police chase with undercover cops from St Louis PD, but was acquitted of charges after claiming he feared he was being pursued by kidnappers.
At the time, Bud Light had just surpassed Budweiser as the number one beer in America with successful marketing helping drive sales into the stratosphere.
But August IV launched a flop alcoholic energy drink called Spykes, which campaigners claimed promoted underage drinking.
But August IV sent the company on a downward spiral, and he brought a reputation for falling foul of the law that included a scandalous fatal car wreck in 1983 when he was a student at the University of Arizona.
Despite several other brushes with the law, he was handed the reins of the billion-dollar company. His attempts to meet the challenge of surging liquor sales, most notably his own ‘alcoholic energy drink’, were disasters. It was canned in 2007 – just a year before a hostile takeover would wrestle the frim out of Busch family control.
Billy Busch and his children currently star in MTV reality show ‘Busch Family: Brewed’
The Busch family has watched in recent months as Bud Light, the brand’s biggest cash cow, has been decimated following its collaboration with Dylan Mulvaney (pictured)
In 2008, InBev forged ahead with its takeover plans, and August IV was presented with a bid of $46.3 billion. The scion had previously vowed that no such sale would ‘happen on his watch’, but it was eventually finalized at around $52 billion.
Busch IV was removed from his post as part of the merger.
Billy – Gussie’s son who wrote the tell-all book – branched out on his own, using the family fortune to found his own beer company Kräftig.
After the dust settled, the twisting and turning family saga also attracted attention from TV producers. Billy Busch currently stars in MTV reality show ‘Busch Family: Brewed.’
While away from the company as executives took over, the Busch family has watched in recent months as Bud Light, which became the brand’s biggest cash cow, has been decimated.
After woke marketing executives decided to partner up with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney in April, a mass boycott saw Bud Light lose more than $20 billion in market capital.
Now, while the Busch clan once dominated the worldwide beer industry and seemingly knew exactly what the American people wanted, the family’s fall from power has seen its iconic beer now become cheaper than water.