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The Budweiser Clydesdales’ First Gig Was the End of Prohibition

August Busch, born on this day in 1899, came up with the concept of the Budweiser Clydesdales to celebrate the repeal of anti-liquor laws

The first Budweiser Clydesdale team paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue to deliver a case of Budweiser to President Roosevelt. The fancy horses have been a company tradition ever since. (Anheuser-Busch)
smithsonian.com

The Budweiser Clydesdales are a familiar sight to anyone who watches the Super Bowl.

Pulling a wagon full of wooden cases of Budweiser, the team of big horses makes regular appearances at the annual football event and also show up at other events throughout the country. What you might not know is how the Clydesdales got their big break. It was thanks to August Anheuser Busch, Junior.  He was the grandson and great-grandson of liquor company Anheuser-Busch’s founders.

Busch was a “master showman and irrepressible salesman who turned a small family operation into the world’s largest brewing company,” wrote Robert Thomas Jr. in Busch’s 1989 New York Times obituary. Nowhere are those skills more apparent than in the story of the horses.

Like other brewers, Anheuser-Busch had survived the years of Prohibition, which lasted from 1919 to 1933, by branching out. It made everything from soft drinks and ice cream to car bodies.

But like many, many Americans, the company must have celebrated the end of Prohibition. And Busch caught the mood of the times. He “recalled the draft horses that had once pulled beer wagons in Germany and pre-automotive America,” writes Thomas, “and obtained a team to haul the first case of Budweiser down Pennsylvania Avenue for delivery to President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House.”

The Budweiser Clydesdales were born. Later in his career, Busch would ride behind them into the stadium of his home baseball team, the St. Louis Cardinals, during games. The arrival of the horses would be heralded by the Budweiser jingle “Here Comes the King,” writes Lisa Brown for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The horses, and the song, remain a St. Louis tradition.

The Clydesdale tradition isn’t so different today, although now there are several teams across the country. Raising successive generations of the horses has become an Anheuser-Busch preoccupation. They run a multi-million dollar operation,  ABC reports, that includes breeding more than 40 horses every year in hopes of getting ten male horses who can perform. The others are sold.

“We have very, very stringent requirements to be a Budweiser Clydesdale,” farm overseer Jeff Knapper told ABC. “They have to have a white blaze, a black mane and tail, dark bay in color and four white stocking feet.”

The routine that the horses are known for performing—including the difficult "docking maneuver"—has its roots in the same cart-drawn tradition that Busch was invoking when he set the first team up, writes Kimberly Brown for The Horse. “In busy streets prior to and even after automobiles made their appearance, you couldn’t block the roads with your horses while unloading wagons,” she writes. “So, drivers taught teams to back up to the loading dock, then maintain the wagon in place while the entire team swiveled around to be parallel with the road—all without moving the wagon from the dock.”

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