The Passing Of Two Brewery Titans


Within the first 10 days of October, 1913 two brewery kings died, Toronto’s Eugene O’Keefe and Adolphus Busch of St. Louis. The trade news of the United States, generally insular from brewing on the other side of the border, took notice of O’Keefe’s passing – it had to given the size of his brewery and importance as a benefactor. In 1911, O’Keefe could produce 500,000 barrels a year.

Of course Busch needed no introduction, and as one account of the day put it, his passing sent a shock wave through the nation. Even as Prohibition fervour was cresting, everyone knew how important he was to American industry and in St. Louis. Indeed his name was known internationally, not least in Germany where he retained a residence and high social connections until his death.

There is no substitute for a contemporary account of any important figure’s passing. Apart from the charm of older turns of phrase, nuggets emerge which recent biographies don’t get at, or not in the same way. Below, I reproduce accounts of the mens’ passing from an American trade journal, The Western Brewer.

A number of things connect O’Keefe and Busch even though they never had business dealings as far as I know. Both were immigrants. O’Keefe was Donegal-born Irish, and Catholic. He was a major Catholic business figure in Orange Ontario of the 1800s.

Busch was Hesse-born, a Lutheran. O’Keefe came earlier, at only 5, Busch in young manhood after his education and some formative experience in a shipping house. Both had good educations, Busch in gymnasia and a Brussels technical school, O’Keefe in both public and church schools. (Busch spoke German, English and French perfectly, skills which assisted his career).

Both men had experience in different fields before entering brewing, Busch notably as a grain and hops dealer, O’Keefe in hotels, a grocery and finally banking.  Busch later expanded into railroads, refrigeration, even hotel-keeping (he built a grand hotel in Dallas).

Both lived reasonably long for their day especially O’Keefe who was past 80 when he died, this at a time when the brewing press regularly reported people passing in their 40s, 50s, early 60s.

Both were lager pioneers. Budweiser was the American avatar of pale Bohemian beer. O’Keefe, no doubt seeing the rise of lager in the U.S., built a bottom fermentation facility in 1879 and introduced mechanically refrigerated warehousing in his market. He was one of the first here to chart a course for brewing which departed from its ale and porter origins and set the tone still evident in the mass market today (although the original O’Keefe pilsner lager was all-malt, as this informative account of O’Keefe from the Toronto Historicist site makes clear).

Not least, both figures are well-remembered to this day, Busch via Budweiser and the famed Anheuser-Busch brewery which stayed in family hands until comparatively recently, and O’Keefe via philanthropies in Toronto and for his O’Keefe Ale, still recollected by many who know beer well. The Carling name, famous for beer internationally, is indelibly connected to O’Keefe since the descendant brewery was called Carling-O’Keefe before joining with Molson (now Molson-Coors) in the late 1980s.







Note re images: the first image shown is available at numerous sites on online. The second two are from the American brewing journal The Western Brewer, via HathiTrust. All intellectual property thereto or therein belong to their lawful owners or authorized users. Images are believed available for educational or cultural purposes. All feedback welcomed.