Bud-Weis-Er. That familiar croak, first emitted by three animated frogs in a halftime ad during the 1995 Super Bowl, quickly became synonymous with good-ole-boys and the world's most popular American beer, Budweiser. Besides these lovable amphibians, Budweiser has spawned numerous pop-culture phenomenons in the course of selling itself, via characters like Spuds Mackenzie, Bud Man, and the “Whassup” guys. Memorable advertising campaigns such as these are nothing new to the King of Beers. In fact, in the world of beer, marketing and brewing have always gone hand in hand.
Budweiser grew out of the marriage of Adolphus Busch and Eberhard Anheuser’s daughter Lilly in 1861, when Busch began working for the Anheuser family’s brewery business in St. Louis, Missouri. Fifteen years later, Anheuser-Busch created Budweiser, one of the first light-flavored lagers in America. The term “Budweiser,” which is also a word for people from the Czech town of Budweis, was actually adopted by at least three breweries during the late 1800s. Generically, the name described any Bohemian-style lager, a type of beer that was much lighter in color and taste than most American beers at the time. In 1907, the breweries struck a deal that gave Anheuser-Busch exclusive rights to the name within the United States. Even then, branding was everything.
The introduction and subsequent popularity of Budweiser also coincided with advances in transportation and refrigeration technologies. When Anheuser-Busch was founded, most beer was sold in the local community where it was produced. In the early 1870s, though, Busch introduced an exciting new process at his brewery called pasteurization, which greatly increased the distance barrels of beer could be shipped before spoiling. In the following years, the company also adopted refrigerated railcars and strategically located ice houses to keep its beer fresh during transport. The company was soon able to ship Budweiser clear across the United States, making it the country’s first nationally distributed beer.
Anheuser-Busch was also an early adopter of inventive advertising methods to spread its brand’s visibility. For example, Budweiser was one of the first beverages to have individually labeled bottles, which helped differentiate the beer in small-town stores and taverns far from its source. Anheuser-Busch also produced novelty items to reward productive salesmen, distributors, and innkeepers. One particularly prized item from the early 1900s was a combination pocket knife and corkscrew bottle opener, many of which were given out by Adolphus Busch himself. The earliest versions of these folding knives came with carved bone handles and included a tiny Stanhope lens with an image of either Adolphus or the brewery mounted inside. Later versions were eventually made using nickel, brass, mother of pearl, and colorful enamel ornamentation.
During prohibition, Anheuser-Busch transitioned to non-alcoholic products in order to stay afloat. While Budweiser beer was out of production from 1920-1933, the company made soft drinks, medicinal malt tonics, ice cream, and Bevo, a non-alcoholic cereal beverage. After the 21st Amendment was passed, Budweiser resumed production, accompanied by a plethora of Budweiser signs, trays, bottle openers, and other promotional items. Lighted bar signs featuring the brand's iconic bowtie logo, as well as pool-table lights enclosing a rotating team of plastic Clydesdales, are among some of the most collected pieces of Budweiser memorabilia from the 20th century.
Anheuser-Busch released its first series of collectible ceramic beer steins in 1975—steins became an annual holiday tradition beginning in 1980. These heavy stoneware mugs usually depicted wintry forest scenes featuring the Clydesdale team of horses pulling a Budweiser wagon, although steins were also created celebrating the brand's association with NASCAR, football players, and, of course, characters of its own making such as Bud Man. The popularity of Bud Light, which was introduced in 1982 as a lower-calorie version of Budweiser, surpassed the company’s flagship brew as the top-selling beer in the U.S. in 2001, with a flurry of Bud Light signage and merchandise following in its wake.
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