Bud Light and its parent company, Anheuser Busch, continue to dominate headlines over the Dylan Mulvaney scandal — but it’s far from the only drama to rock the company since it began brewing beer in 1876.
Former owner Billy Busch’s book Family Reigns details the marriages, divorces, deaths and boardroom saga that rocked the company — and eventually led to his family losing control of their empire thanks to a hostile takeover in 2008.
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, founded the brand.
Gussie was a popular and charismatic personality who had made Anheuser Busch the largest brewery in the world by 1957. He married four times and had ten children – with his large number of children considerably diluting the once powerful family dynasty.
In “Family Reigns,” Billy said of his father, “He wears Gucci loafers and leaves the house decked out in a gold watch and gold rings every day.” Wherever the sun touches him, he sparkles.
Billy also recalled growing up on the family’s 700-acre Grant’s Farm estate near St. Louis, owned by Gussie.
He shared his excitement at hearing his father’s Mercedes pull down the property’s driveway, saying it meant “the king of beers has returned to his throne.”
August “Gussie” Busch Jr., pictured in orange in 1982, led Anheuser Busch to his greatest success as chairman between 1946 and 1975 – but also weakened the dynasty’s power by marrying four times and having ten children
From his seat at the head of one of America’s most famous families, 62-year-old Billy wrote, “Everything we know, everything we enjoyed, everything our ancestors left us would be undone.”
The almighty beer giant had the humblest of beginnings when Adolphus Busch, returning from the Civil War, began working for his father-in-law Eberhard Anheuser’s brewery in the 1860s.
On their journey to a multi-billion dollar empire, the Busch clan faced a series of challenges, beginning with the time when Adolphus and his brewmaster Carl Conrad traveled to Germany to “come up with an idea for the perfect beer”.
After unsuccessfully chugging their way through Bavaria, they ended up in a small artists’ town called Budweis.
When they got to the town’s only hotel, the two found that “there was no more room in the inn” and had to seek shelter in a monastery. When the monks shared their homebrew, the cocktail became a legendary Budweiser recipe.
Billy observed, “Adolphus was a man determined to take his company to the far corners of the earth.” That drive not only brought him immeasurable influence, but also moved an entire nation forward.
By 1911, just five decades after Busch began brewing, the United States had overtaken beverage power Germany in beer production.
Billy Busch, the great-grandson of legendary beer baron Adolphus Busch, has shared an insight into his family’s iconic and tragic history
The family happily supported the war effort during World War I, helping establish what until recently was a reputation for patriotism.
During this conflict, the Anheuser Busch plant in Missouri was used to build diesel engines for the American submarine fleet.
As the family grew in power, Billy said it was common for him and his siblings to hear his father quip, “What would Adolphus do?”
“The answer lay in the history, the myth, the legacy of our family history,” he added. “It was an abbreviation of a long list of values that have made the Busch family successful.”
The Busch family thrived on Grant Farm (pictured) in St. Louis, Missouri for decades when they had a multi-billion dollar beer empire
Members of the Busch family became some of the most influential people in America in the 20th century. August Busch Jr. is seen alongside President Harry S. Truman in 1950
While the family business brought in billions, Billy Busch became an established polo player
It’s no secret that the Busch family tree is riddled with heartache — though a 1929 drama that befell the family makes it clear that their wealth presented other problems.
On New Year’s Eve 1930, Adolphus’ 13-year-old grandson, Buppie Busch Orthwein, was in the family limousine when she was attacked by a masked gunman who threatened the driver as he got out of the car before speeding off with the boy.
The kidnapping made headlines across America and was one of several high-profile incidents of rich children being held for ransom early in the Great Depression.
Buppie was thankfully returned to his family after two days with no injuries or demands for his safety. His kidnapper, a father of seven, was arrested.
August Busch Sr. (pictured) was credited with guiding the brand through Prohibition prior to his tragic suicide in 1934
The kidnapping, however, was only the harbinger of a milestone in the family history when August Anheuser Busch Sr., the man credited with leading the company through Prohibition, committed suicide in 1934.
The tragedy happened after suffering from heart disease and gout some time before, and the old man was crippled.
On a February night the pain became too severe and he asked his doctor, DR. PE Rutledge, to give him a single shot of morphine.
As Billy notes, his grandfather then asked his butler for his .32 caliber pearl-handled pistol.
With some suddenness, a shot rang out as soon as the butler turned, as August shot himself in the chest to end his chronic pain.
He left a note that read, “Goodbye dear mom and lovely children,” and his grandson writes that he has succumbed to pain “beyond anything most people could endure in their lifetime.”
“Now there are pills that people can take for fluid retention, pain and heart disease,” he added. “I’d like to think that if he had gotten the help he needed, he would have stayed here to see his business prosper.”
August Busch Jr., a US military colonel, is pictured on his horse, Dalchoolin, 1945
After taking the helm after August Sr.’s tragic suicide and his brother’s death in 1946, August Jr. was affectionately nicknamed “Gussie” across America as he rode Anheuser Busch’s wave of success.
He was known as a fun-loving alpha guy who ran his businesses ruthlessly, leading to him even buying the St. Louis Cardinals to face off against a competitor.
Thanks to Gussie’s penchant for marriage and divorce, the Busch family tree grew rapidly – but his behavior also diluted the dynasty.
Billy describes Gussie’s second divorce in 1952 as the moment that would ultimately result in the family losing control of their dynasty.
But decades of success were to follow.
Gussie Busch’s youngest child Christina, 8, tragically died in a horrific car accident in 1974
Gussie cemented the brand’s place as the world’s leading brewer, diversifying into industries such as real estate, raw material processing and bulk recycling.
However, his reign reached a dramatic point when another tragedy struck the family following the death of Gussie’s youngest child, Christina, 8, in 1974.
She was killed in an eight-car collision while being driven home from school, and shortly after her funeral, Gussie’s son August Busch III – known as Auggie – hatched a plan to take over the company.
Auggie – described as “more intense and competitive” – successfully unseated Gussie as chairman in 1975, when Auggie was just 37 years old.
Though ruthless, Auggie was described by business associates as “ahead of his time” for understanding how mass marketing and advertising could continue to grow the family brand.
Gussie was surprised by the move of his eldest son, who reportedly “took what he believed to be his rightful place as head of Anheuser-Busch”.
“Just when my dad thought he’d been through enough and lost everything there was to lose, he was in the fight of his life and about to lose everything,” writes Billy.
Adolphus Busch (pictured) founded the legendary company in the 1860s together with his father-in-law Eberhard Anheuser
August “Auggie” Busch Jr (left) pictured with St. Louis Cardinals player Lou Brock
Control of the company passed to August Busch IV in 2002, but the company struggled before it was toppled in a hostile takeover by Belgian brewer InBev
August Busch IV’s tenure at the helm of the company was marked by a series of failed 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 “like what you’d see on the TV show Succession,” Auggie mobilized the family against his own father, Gussie, and convinced them that he had gone senile.
In the end, Gussie was left only as “Honorary Chairman” and was expelled from the company he had helped build.
As he lost control of his own inheritance, Billy said he could feel the decline palpably affecting his once world-beating father, Gussie.
“I saw how work gave him energy, gave him purpose and joy, and gave him something to fight and live for,” he wrote.
“I also saw how tightly he held it, how he reacted and twisted as it slipped from him, and how fiercely he railed against the injustice that it was all so cruelly snatched from him in the end.”
While it was a monumental moment in family dynamics, the move was far more than a father-son rivalry with billions of dollars at stake.
After leading the country’s brewing industry around the turn of the century, Auggie – Augustus III. – “with the tradition” and handed over a series of increasingly managerial positions in the company to his son August IV.
August IV was previously mired in his own scandals, including a fatal car accident in 1983 that killed a 21-year-old woman who was a passenger in the car he was driving.
No charges were brought. And in 1985, he was involved in a chase with undercover St. Louis PD cops, but was acquitted of the charges after he claimed he feared being pursued by kidnappers.
At this point, Bud Light had just overtaken Budweiser as the leading beer in America, with successful marketing helping to propel sales into the stratosphere.
But August IV launched a flop alcohol energy drink called Spykes, which activists said encouraged underage drinking.
But August IV sent the company into a downward spiral and brought with it a reputation for breaking the law, which included a scandalous fatal car accident in 1983 while he was a student at the University of Arizona.
Despite several other run-ins with the law, he was handed the reins of the multi-billion dollar company. His attempts to meet the challenge of rising spirits sales, particularly his own “alcoholic energy drink,” failed. It was shut down in 2007 – just a year before a hostile takeover would take the company out of the Busch family’s control.
Billy Busch and his kids are currently starring on the MTV reality show Busch Family: Brewed
The Busch family has witnessed Bud Light, the brand’s biggest cash cow, be decimated in recent months after working with Dylan Mulvaney (pictured).
In 2008, InBev advanced its acquisition plans and a $46.3 billion bid was made to August IV. The kid had previously vowed that such a sale would not happen “under his supervision,” but the purchase price was eventually set at around $52 billion.
Busch IV was removed from office in the course of the merger.
Billy – Gussie’s son who wrote the tell-all book – went into business for himself and used the family fortune to start his own beer company, Kraft.
After the dust settled, the twisted family saga also caught the attention of TV producers. Billy Busch is currently starring on the MTV reality show Busch Family: Brewed.
Leaving the company when executives took over, the Busch family has seen Bud Light, which has become the brand’s biggest cash cow, decimated in recent months.
After wake marketing executives decided to partner with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney in April, Bud Light lost more than $20 billion in market capital to a mass boycott.
While the Busch clan once dominated the world beer industry and seemed to know exactly what the American people wanted, the family’s iconic beer has now become cheaper than water after falling from power.