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Here's the real story behind that Adolphus Busch Budweiser Super Bowl commercial

A screengrab of Budweiser's Super Bowl advertisement, highlighting the young Adolphus Busch.
A screengrab of Budweiser's Super Bowl advertisement, highlighting the young Adolphus Busch.

By now, this year’s Budweiser commercial during the Super Bowl has become the most viewed online of all the ads during this year’s big game. 

The ad follows the story of a young Adolphus Busch as he makes his way from Germany to St. Louis before starting Anheuser-Busch. It’s a feel-good story about immigrants’ contributions to American society, especially at a time when some immigrants to the United States feel under attack.

But how historically accurate is it?

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, we heard from Andrew Wanko, a public historian with the Missouri History Museum, about the actual history of Adolphus Busch, Eberhard Anheuser, the beginnings of Anheuser-Busch and the rise of the Budweiser brand.

"It is one giant Hollywood leap away from the real Adolphus Busch, but his real life is no less fascinating," said Wanko, who recently published a blog post titled "Was Budweiser Really Born the Hard Way?"

The commercial charts the various exploits of Busch as he travels from Germany to New Orleans, finally settling in St. Louis. That migration pattern is "about where the true story stops," Wanko said. 

Busch was born to a wealthy family in Mainz, Germany. He had studied in Brussels and was considered well-educated. 

When he decided to come to the United States, three of his brothers had already made the move and wrote about how wonderful it was here. One of his brothers had even already set up a brewery in Washington, Missouri. Andrew Wanko, Public Historian with the Missouri History Museum.

Andrew Wanko, Public Historian with the Missouri History Museum.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Andrew Wanko, Public Historian with the Missouri History Museum.

Busch, however, did not come to the U.S. for the purpose of being a brewer. He came to be a businessman, Wanko said, but wasn't sure exactly what that would entail.

Wanko said that Busch wrote in his own words that when he got to St. Louis he had a substantial family allowance that was fed to him and that he "spent his first days loafing, getting acquainted and having a good time."

"This certainly didn't make the commercial," Wanko said.

As for Busch's daring leap from a flaming riverboat?

"That was probably not his real experience, they would have known if he had suffered something like that," Wanko said. "For thousands of other immigrants, the threat of a steamboat explosion was very real and a very horrifying possibility."

Busch eventually took a partnership in a brewing supply company in St. Louis, which would have been a lucrative business in 1860, when St. Louis was home to some 40 breweries.

It was through this  job that Busch eventually met Anheuser, who owned a struggling brewery. Busch fell in love with Anheuser's daughter, Lilly, and the two would eventually marry. A few years after that, Busch went to work for his father-in-law's brewery not because he loved beer (he famously drank wine for the most of his life, claiming beer to be "slop") but because he saw a lucrative business opportunity.

The rest is, actually, history. 

Listen as Wanko sets the rest of the record straight on the Anheuser-Busch origin story and answers your questions about Budweiser:

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.