One of the most talked-about Super Bowl ads this year (which was actually released a few days before the Super Bowl) is the Budweiser ad that tells the inspiring story of German immigrant Adolphus Busch. It’s a great immigrant story, about a poor German who overcame hostility and adversity to makes his way St. Louis, where he met the right people and thus began his quest for the American Dream.
Too bad very little of it is true.
First, let’s take a look at the Super Bowl ad in question. Here it is for your convenience.
Titled “Born The Hard Way,” the Super Bowl ad shows Adolphus Busch (portrayed by Tallahassee actor Billy Kelly, according to the Tallahassee Democrat), crossing the Atlantic to come to America and fulfill his dream. Arriving in New Orleans, he’s treated with anti-immigrant hostility by everyone who sees him. Then, while making his way up the Mississippi River to St. Louis, his paddle-wheeler catches on fire, forcing him to jump ship. Eventually, the beaten-down-but-not-broken Adolphus makes his way to St. Louis. There, fate brings him to a corner bar, where he meets his eventual partner, Eberhard Anheuser. The rest, as they say, is history.
It’s a great story. But it’s not Adolphus Busch’s story.
William Knoedelseder, the author of Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America’s Kings of Beer, tells Slate that the ad takes quite a few liberties with the facts.
For starters, if Adolphus’ crossing of the Atlantic ocean was difficult, he never mentioned it in his letters or writings. Similarly, that fire on the Mississippi never happened; or, at least, he never mentioned it.
For another thing, Adolphus Busch didn’t exactly arrive in New Orleans penniless and find naught but hostility on his journey. Unlike so many Irish immigrants, who arrived in America destitute and fought bitterly for every scrap of dignity they could get, German immigrants like Adolphus were more-or-less welcomed with open arms. Particularly, German immigrants with money.
Adolphus Busch wasn’t exactly loaded when he arrived in America, but he was far from destitute. His family back in Germany were wealthy merchants. Adolphus, as the 21st of 22 children, knew that he wouldn’t get much in the way of inheritance, so he took what he could and made his way to St. Louis, where there were plenty of other German immigrants.
And that scene where Adolphus showed his vision of Budweiser beer to future partner Eberhard Anheuser? Never happened. Adolphus didn’t come to America to brew beer; he came here to make his fortune, and beer just happened to be the pathway he landed on. St. Louis, with its inexhaustible supply of fresh water (the Mississippi River), vast network of underground caves to keep the product cool, and thirsty immigrants, was the perfect place to brew beer. Adolphus saw that and figured he’d get in on that action. However, to his dying day, Adolphus, being the son of a wine merchant, preferred wine over beer, according to Salon.
That’s not to say that there’s nothing in Adolphus Busch’s story to be admired. Although he wasn’t destitute when he arrived in America, he didn’t arrive with much, but by the time he died, he was one of the wealthiest men in America. Thanks to his business acumen and his ability to see solutions rather than problems, Busch took his small slice of the American beer industry, which at the time consisted of local corner brewers selling their wares only as far as their carriages could take them, and turned it into a national distribution network that turned the humble Budweiser brand into America’s best-selling beer.
It’s also why, to this day, you can thank Anheuser-Busch for the best Super Bowl ads every year.
[Featured Image by Scott Olson/Getty Images]