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DelanceyPlace.com - Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent

In today's encore selection -- from Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent. Adolphus Busch, the brewer who was one of the grand personalities of 19th century America, had a cannon fired every time he returned from a trip. His leadership within the brewery industry put him at the forefront of many campaigns in the decades-long battle against prohibition laws:

"The most forceful advocate of the brewers' anti-Prohibition campaign was the most accomplished man in the industry, Adolphus Busch. The youngest of twenty-one children of a prosperous Rhineland merchant, Busch immigrated to the United States in 1857, went into the brewery supply business, and in 1861, at twenty-two, married Lilly Anheuser, the daughter of one of his customers. (The familial bond did not lack for fur­ther adhesive, as Adolphus's brother Ulrich married Lilly's sister Anna.) Adolphus soon took over the management of his father-in-law's company and in time appended his surname to it.

"Busch was a genuine visionary. Where others saw brewing as a fairly straight- forward enterprise, he saw it as the core of a vertically integrated series of businesses. He built glass factories and ice plants. He acquired railway companies to ferry coal from mines he owned in Illinois to the vast Anheuser-Busch factory complex sprawled across seventy acres of St. Louis riverfront. (A local joke: St. Louis was 'a large city on the [banks of the] Mississippi, located near the Anheuser-Busch plant.') Busch got into the business of manufacturing refrigerated rail cars and truck bod­ies that could be used not just by breweries but also by such substantial customers as the Armour meatpacking company. He paid one million dol­lars for exclusive U.S. rights to a novel engine technology developed by his countryman Rudolf Diesel, and for $30,000 purchased the painting of Custer's Last Stand that, with the Anheuser-Busch logotype prominently appended, would soon grace the walls of thousands upon thousands of saloons. In 1875 Busch produced thirty-five thousand barrels of beer; by 1901, his annual output -- primarily of a light lager named for the Bohe­mian town of Budweis -- surpassed a million barrels. ...

"Adolphus had a potent personal aura. He spoke five languages, built palaces for himself and his wife in St. Louis, Pasadena, Cooperstown, and Wiesbaden, and traveled in a style appropriate for the monarch he was. Whenever Adolphus and Lilly returned from a trip to their home at Num­ber One Busch Place (situated right on company property in St. Louis), brewery employees fired a cannon. Coupled with his company's preemi­nence in the industry, his grand manner enabled him to dominate indus­try councils. This became especially clear in 1903, when he helped craft an agreement, eventually signed by nine breweries, to fund a committee 'promoting anti-prohibition matters in Texas,' one of Anheuser-Busch's largest markets.



"When some brewers expressed an unwillingness to con­tinue underwriting the committee's activities, Busch argued, 'It may cost us millions and even more,' he wrote, 'but what of it if thereby we elevate our position?' He concluded his appeal by offering another $100,000 of Anheuser-Busch support for the Texas campaign, money that would help fund such 'anti-prohibition matters' as paying the poll taxes of blacks and Mexican-Americans who were expected to vote for legal beer, purchasing the editorial support of newspapers (according to an internal report, 'We have sent checks in advance, and the average country editor, struggling to make a living, hates to return checks'), and engaging in some rather more mysterious activities. In 1910, after the brewers' political agent in east-central Texas was able to undo a dry victory in Robertson County, he explained that he had engineered the reversal through means that 'are best not written about.'

"Busch's motives went beyond the merely pecuniary: 'Besides losing our business by state-wide prohibition,' he wrote during the Texas battle, 'we would lose our honor and standing of ourselves and our families, and rather than lose that, we should risk the majority of our fortunes.' It was the sort of call to arms that inspired both employees and competitors, and that led to something of a national festival in 1911, when Adolphus and Lilly's golden anniversary was marked by celebrations in thirty-five cities. A similar nationwide outpouring of respect and love from the brewing industry occurred two years later, when Adolphus Busch died, at the age of seventy-four, from cirrhosis of the liver."


Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
Author: Daniel Okrent
Publisher: Scribner a division of Simon Schuster
Copyright 2010 by Last Laugh, Inc

Pages 31-33

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