Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Six Oxen, Eight Mules and Gambrinus - a Tipsy History of the Kings of Beer

Budweiser’s team of Clydesdale horses is arguably one of the most beloved and recognizable images in American pop-culture.  Budweiser trots out the majestic beasts every Christmas and Super Bowl season to tug on our heartstrings and remind us to drink their beer, or at least to serve it to “Drunk Uncle.”

Budweiser’s official history tells us that the tradition began in 1933, when A. A. Busch, Jr. and A. B. Busch III surprised their father, A. A. Busch, Sr. with a gift of a six-horse Clydesdale hitch to celebrate the repeal of Prohibition:

Realizing the marketing potential of a horse-drawn beer wagon, the company also arranged to have a second six-horse Clydesdale hitch sent to New York on April 7 to mark the event.  The Clydesdales, driven by Billy Wales, drew a crowd of thousands as they clattered down the streets of New York City to the Empire State Building.[i]

Our-Heritage, Budweiser Clydesdales, (you must be of legal drinking age to visit the site).

However, although 1933 may mark the beginning or our love affair with Budweiser’s Clydesdales, it did not mark the beginning of Budweiser’s love affair with draught animals and wagons for advertising purposes.  In 1907, Budweiser took a six-ox prairie schooner and an eight-mule team beer wagon on an international advertising tour. 

Six-Ox Prairie Schooner and Eight-Mule Team Attract Crowd

The unusual sight of a prairie schooner and an eight-mule team in town this morning caused Richmond to sit up and take notice.  The common comment was: “It’s years since I have seen a yoke of oxen.” And there were three yokes hitched to the schooner.

It was simply one of the most unique advertising outfits that has ever been introduced in the East.

The water wagon[ii] has been placed on the shelf, and in its place the beer wagon has been substituted, a handsome delivery wagon and a six-ox team, a completely outfitted prairie schooner of the pioneer days, when the human bones marked the line now followed by the Union Pacific Railroad to the slope, is the new advertisement that the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company, of St. Louis, creators of the marvelous Budweiser beer of song and story, have introduced into this town for a limited space of time.

. . .

The outfits are on their way to the South, whence they will be shipped to South America, where Budweiser is fully as well known as it is in this country.

The Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), August 30, 1911, page 3.

Budweiser also had several of their other advertising techniques in place before 1907; Budweiser girls, a catchy song, and a catch-phrase.  Together, they would help build Budweiser into one of the most valuable and recognizable brands in the world.

Budweiser Girls

Contrast this 1890s Budweiser Hostess, seductively tugging her floor-length skirt up to reveal – shocker – shoes, with a more current model seductively revealing nearly everything else.  I challenge you to you to guess which is which:

KISS FM's Gallatin Valley Budweiser Girl - 2012; and "Hostess" (Budweiser Bier) (1890s) from

Catchy Tune

In 1907, the same year Budweiser's advertising wagons went on tour, apparently as part of a multi-media advertising push, Charles J. Ross introduced the song, Budweiser’s a Friend of Mine, at Ziegfeld’s Follies of 1907; Ziegfeld’s first follies.  You can listen to Billy Murray’s recording of the same year here.

For my taste, it’s not quite up to the standards of Here Comes the King (watch an early Clydesdale commercial with the song here) – but still, pretty good for 1907, I guess.

A Budweiser advertisement from 1902 plays on similar emotions:

If you’er in need,
It’s your friend indeed.

Anadarko Daily Democrat (Oklahoma), August 15, 1902, page 3.

Anadarko Daily Democrat (Anadarko, Oklahoma), August 15, 1902, page 3.

The Budweiser or Bud as friend or buddy theme may also have played a part in success of the Whassup! campaign.

In 1903, just in time for the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis,  Anheuser Busch commissioned songwriter Harry von Tilzer (who blessed us with barber-shop chorus favorite, I Want a Girl (Just Like the Girl, Who Married Dear Old Dad)) to write a follow-up to his beer-drinking hit of the previous year, Down Where the Wurzburger Flows; the follow up was entitled, Under the Anheuser Bush:

You Can Listen to a version here.


Budweiser is known far-and-wide as “The King of Beers,” and has been since at least 1899:

The Weekly Intelligencer (Lexington, Missouri), July 1, 1899, page 3.

But Bud wasn’t the only "King."

In 1896, both Omaha’s Ak-Sar-Ben (Nebraska backwards) brewery and Hoster's Wiener Beer were independently promoted as the, “King of Beers”:

Omaha Daily Bee, August 31, 1896, page 8.

Columbus City Directory 1896-97

In 1894, Imperial Beer claimed the crown (in the text after "Epicures Say"):
Life, Volume 23, Number 585, March 15, 1894.

In 1893 and 1892, Foss-Schneider thought their beer was all-that:

Official Book of the American Federation of Labor, December 12th, 1892..

The Express Gazette (Cincinnati), Volume 18, Number 1, January 10, 1893.

If the Bavarian legend of the origin of the name for Bock Beer is to be believed, the title was used “in olden times” in a dispute between the Duke of Bavaria and a visiting nobleman from Brunswick:

“[S]uch barley juice as we brew at home in Brunswick is equaled by no other.  Our Mumme is the king of beers, so that the bravest drinker cannot take two beakers of it without sinking under the table.”

The Galaxy, volume 23, number 1, January 1877, page 64.

The claim to the beer throne was so cliché by 1914 that a Beer-industry trade journal ridiculed it as circus-style hype:

All of this circus conversation has been inspired by a casual survey of the advertising slogans or catch phrases that are being used by some hundreds of brewers all over the United States.  Here are some of them:

“The World’s Standard of Perfection.”
“America’s Finest Beer.”
“The Finest Beer Ever Brewed.”
“King of Beers.”
“Prince of Beverages.”
“The Beer Without a Peer.”

The Western Brewer (Chicago), Volume 42, Number 1, January 15, 1914, page 4.

The catch-phrases on their list of “good ones” do not seem much better; although their first suggestion eventually did a good job for Maxwell House Coffee:

“Good to the Last Drop.”
“The Pure Food Beer.”
“The Beer that Builds You Up.”
“The Brewmaster’s ‘Master Brew’.”
“A Real German Brew.”


In Germany, Warsteiner is similarly known as a Queen among the beers (Koenigin Unter den Bieren):

With a King and Queen both well past the century mark, who’s the heir to the throne?

A Giant Killer perhaps?

Photographed at McCaffery's Dolce Vita

(In 2015, both RateBeer and BeerAdvocate listed no fewer than five of Toppling Goliath’s beers in the top-50 beers in the world.[iii])

Actual King of the Beers

Among brewers, Budweiser may have earned the right to call its beer the King of Beers, but the actual king of beers is, and has always been, King Gambrinus – the fiddler[iv] who sold his soul to invent lager beer.

In 1857, the proprietor, ironically perhaps, of the St. Louis Beer Hall in Memphis, Tennessee, hung a sign in his honor:

King of Beer. – H. Seesal, of the St. Louis Beer Hall, on Adams street, above Front Row, has hoisted a splendid new sign of the King of Beer; he keeps a splendid article of lager.

Memphis Daily Appeal, May 28, 1852, page 2.

Today, you can see a giant statue of Gambrinus in Columbus, OhioThe brewer August Wagner first placed the statue at the entrance of his new Gambrinus Brewery in 1906. [v]

The Gambrinus brewery also used the slogan, “the King of Beers,” for at least one of its offerings (small print – third line):

An article from 1872 about the growth of the beer industry, in the wake of increased German immigration, also explained the legend of Gambrinus – the king of beers:

Thirty years ago brewing was comparatively in its infancy in this country, but about 1840 it began to assume an importance which has steadily increased, and the use of the liquid has spread from one end of the continent to the other.  This fact, however, is mainly due to the large number of German emigrants who will have their lager wherever they go, and carry their worship of Gambrinus to as great an extent as mortals can well do.

Strange inconsistency, for according to the legend of that famous king, lager beer was the invention of Satan. 

Thus it happened – Gambrinus was a fiddler, who lived in the time of Charlemagne (A. D. 800).  Having been jilted by his sweetheart, he went into a wood to hang himself.  As he was sitting on a bough, with the rope about his neck, preparatory to making the final plunge, suddenly a tall man in a greet coat appeared before him, and offered to make him as rich as he pleased, and to cause his sweetheart to burst with vexation at her foly in rejecting him, provided he would give up his soul to Beelzebub, at the end of thirty years.

Gambrinus struck the bargain, and, aided by Satan, he invented chiming bells and lager beer.  As soon as the Emperor Charlemagne had drunk a gallon or two of the beer, he was so pleased that he made Gambrinus Duke of Brabant and Count of Flanders, and thus give him the satisfaction of being able to laugh at his old sweetheart.  When the thirty years expired, Beelzebub sent one of his imps with orders to bring Gambrinus back before midnight, but that jolly hero made the imp so drunk with the beer that he was unable to do as he had been commanded; so, as is usual in all such legends, the devil was cheated in his bargain, and Gambrinus lived long enough to drink so much beer that he turned into a beer barrel.

Mower County Transcript (Lansing, Minnesota), May 30, 1872, page 4.


Many of Budweiser’s successful advertising techniques have been in place for more than a century.  Its team of Clydesdales, one of the most recognizable and beloved advertising images in American Pop-Culture, owes a debt of thanks to the teams of oxen and Mexican mules that toured North and South America in 1907.  The Budweiser Girls have changed their image over the years – nearly one-hundred and twenty years.  Their trademark song, Here Comes the King (When you say Budweiser . . . you’ve said it all) built on the tradition of Budweiser is a Friend of Mine, from Ziegfeld’s Follies of 1907, and Under the Anheuser Bush of 1903.  Their trademarked catch-phrase, The King of Beers, honors their long tradition of quality brewing, as well as harkening back to legendary Gambrinus, the king of beer.

Today, Budweiser is among the most valuable brands in the world; Forbes places its value at $22.3 Billion[vi], the 25th most valuable brand of any kind in the world. 

You don’t think they sold their soul to the devil do you?


[i] Eighty years later (in a commercial that would air only once) the Clydesdales took another trip to New York City to commemorate the loss of the Empire State Building’s successors.
[ii] The water wagon being replaced by a beer wagon is a reference to the expression, “to go on the wagon,” meaning to abstain from alcohol.  The phrase was originally, “to go on the water wagon,” possibly a play on the expression, “jump on (or get on) the bandwagon.” See A Sobering History and Etymology of Getting on and Falling off “the Wagon” and History and Etymology of Jump on the Bandwagon.
[iv] You would think that the Devil would have learned his lesson before he went down to Georgia.

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