Preludes & Nocturnes
Today Anheuser-Busch is the largest brewery in the United States and one of the largest in the world. But for the longest time, Anheuser-Busch was just an also-ran; it wasn’t even the largest brewery in its city. No, that honor fell to the William J. Lemp Brewery.
In 1904 St. Louis was the fourth largest city in America. It was an industrious city, a fountain of culture and innovation, and the gateway to the West; the path to manifest destiny started in St. Louis. At the center of this thriving city were the beer barons, and none were bigger than William “Billy” Lemp Jr. Bllly was the heir to the Lemp family fortune and head of the brewery. By 1920, he was almost broke, and the Lemp Brewery was sold for pennies on the dollar.
For both the city of St. Louis and the Lemp family and brewery, these 16 years would see an incredible spike of success, followed by a precipitous drop that was swift, sudden, and completely predictable. Like most things when looked at in hindsight, the writing was on the wall for a while.
Fortunes rise and fall in America all of the time. This is a story of how it happens.