The Busch Family of Anheuser-Busch fame dates back to Adolphus Busch (1839-1913), who founded the Anheuser-Busch brewery in 1852 with his business partner Eberhard Anheuser. It would go on to become the biggest brewery in the world, so the Busch family’s net worth is in the billions.
Here’s what you need to know about how the family made their fortune and what the fourth and fifth generation are up to nowadays.
1. The Busch Family Is One of America’s Richest Families
In 2016, Forbes listed the Busch family of St. Louis, Missouri, as No. 18 on its list of America’s Richest Families. At that time, the family fortune was estimated at $13.4 billion and Forbes reported that roughly 30 members of the family share that total fortune.
To calculate the various families’ fortunes for the list, Forbes simply subtracts their liabilities from their assets. In other words, Forbes adds up their assets, which include stakes in public and private companies, real estate holdings, art collections, and cash, then subtracts estimates of debt the families hold.
To contrast the 2016 with the 2000 ranking, the Busch family came in at slow No. 9 in 2000, but the fortune was actually less than it was in 2016, at $3 billion instead of 13 billion.
2. Anheuser-Busch Successfully Weathered Prohibition
The vast majority of the Busch family fortune came from its family business, the Anheuser-Busch brewery. In the 1850s, Adolphus Busch founded his first business, a brewing supply company. Eberhard Anheuser, a soap and candle manufacturer, was one of his customers and the two eventually went into business together to start the Bavarian Brewery. That business folded, though Adolphus and Eberhard remained friends — Adolphus married Eberhard’s daughter Lilly in 1861.
After the Civil War, Adolphus and Eberhard tried again and were more successful. They renamed the brewery Anheuser-Busch in 1879, just a year before Anheuser died at the age of 73. Upon his father-in-law’s death, Adolphus became president of the company and started working toward expanding its sales market and eventually producing a nationally-distributed beer. Part of the plan behind this involved the first use of refrigerated train cars and a network of ice houses set up next to the national railway system.
Busch also started using pasteurization as a way to keep beer fresh long enough to be shipped to faraway places, and eventually started buying all components of the business — coal mines, stave makers, bottling factories, etc.
Busch and Lilly Eberhard had 13 children, though only seven survived until Busch’s death in 1913. It was then that his son, August A. Busch Sr., took over the family business. He served as president and CEO until 1934. During his tenure as head of the company, the brewery had to contend with Prohibition (1920-1933), which meant that in order to stay viable, they needed to diversify.
Even though Adolphus died long before Prohibition started, he saw it coming a mile away, according to a History Channel biography.
“Adolphus Busch was in tune with what was happening in the United States and saw the potential for national Prohibition as early as the 1890s,” says Tracy Lauer, Anheuser-Busch’s archives director.
So during August Sr.’s time, the company got into making infant formula, coffee and tea products, ice cream, soda, baker’s yeast, and more, according to History. The biography also says that Anheuser-Busch managed to weather Prohibition because it had sizable real estate holdings across the United States, which it was able to sell off during that time to help keep the company afloat.
3. Anheuser-Busch Later Became The Biggest Brewery In the World
After a long, drawn-out illness, August Sr. committed suicide in 1934 at the age of 68. His older son, Adolphus II, took over as the president until he died in 1946 when his younger brother, August “Gussie” Jr., took over. By 1957, Anheuser-Busch grew to be the largest brewery in the world. By 2008, it operated 15 breweries around the world in addition to its 13 breweries in the United State.
The original brewery in St. Louis opened in 1852 and now includes three buildings listed as National Historic Landmarks. The famous Budweiser Clydesdales are kept on the premises at times and there are free public tours given daily.
The Busch family also owns a 700-acre property outside of St. Louis called Grant’s Farm, which was acquired by August Sr. in 1903 (though it was only 250 acres at the time). The house on the property has 26 rooms and 14 bathrooms; the estate also boasts a hunting lodge, a number of exotic animals, including sometimes the Clydesdales. It has been open to the public since 1955 and is a popular area tourist destination, according to the Society for American Baseball Research.
In addition to the brewing company and its many subsidiaries, the Busch family also started Busch Entertainment Inc. (now called SeaWorld Parks Entertainment). The inaugural park was Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida, and the company would go on to open Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia, SeaWorld parks in Orlando, San Antonio, Texas, and San Diego, California, and Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. Closed locations include Busch Gardens parks in Pasadena and Los Angeles, California, and in Houston, Texas, and a SeaWorld park in Aurora, Ohio.
4. The Busch Family Owned the St. Louis Cardinals for Over 40 Years
In 1953, then-owner of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball franchise Fred Saigh was convicted of tax evasion and put the baseball team up for sale. Gussie Busch heard that Saigh was considering different buyers who might move the team to Milwaukee or Houston, so he got into the bidding war in order to keep the Cardinals in St. Louis.
Under Gussie’s ownership, the team won six National League championships and three World Series titles. Gussie died in 1989, survived by one former wife, Gertrude, 10 children, 27 grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by first wife Marie, second wife Elizabeth, fourth wife Margaret, and his youngest children, Christina, who was killed in a car accident in 1974 at the age of eight.
At that point, the Busch family maintained control of the Cardinals for seven more years, selling the franchise to a partnership between Frederick and Stephen Brauer and Bill DeWitt Jr.
5. Anheuser-Busch Was Sold to InBev in 2008
In what was more an acquisition than a sale, Brazilian and Belgian investment group InBev took Anheuser-Busch over in 2008. The CEO at the time was August Busch IV, the great-great-grandson of AB founder Adolphus Busch. What happened was that between Gussie’s death in 1989 and the 2008 acquisition, various family members had sold an estimated 25 percent of the family-owned business.
According to Forbes, this made the Busch family powerless to stop the $52 billion buyout bid from InBev. The merger of Anheuser-Busch and InBev, named Anheuser-Busch InBev, created the world’s largest brewery, bringing together such iconic brands as Budweiser, Michelob, Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, Bass, Labatt and Beck’s under one roof.
According to a 2009 Associated Press article, this hostile takeover “turned a family-led company that spared little expense into one that is focused intently on cost-cutting and profit margins, while rethinking the way it sells beer.”
The article goes on to detail how InBev cut jobs and perks for employees, reworked the compensation system, and canceled some of the iconic Anheuser-Busch sports deals.
As for the current Busch family members, they run the gamut as to what they’ve been up to since 2008. Then-CEO August IV has had a number of legal troubles, including the accidental overdose death of his girlfriend Adrienne Martin at his home in December 2010.
August IV’s son, Adolphus V, has recently gotten into the cannabis business, telling Denver’s Westword, “My family has always been very supportive. My mother and sisters questioned the industry when I first got into it, but they still supported my decision. My father was on board from the moment I got into the industry. He saw the potential and knew that this would be the industry I could create a legacy in.”
August IV’s first cousin, William K. “Billy” Busch, started his own brewing company in 2011, the William K. Busch Brewing Co., maker of Kräftig beer, but that company shut down in 2019. Billy Sr.’s is now starring on a new MTV reality show, “The Busch Family Brewed,” alongside his wife, Christi, and their seven children. Busch’s eighth (actually first) child, a woman named Scarlett from a previous relationship, will likely not be featured on the show.
The Busch Family Brewed airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on MTV.