The Anheuser-Busch Archives and Library

There are few brewery archives left in the United States. Miller Brewing still has one (or so I am told; I was not allowed to use it when I was researching my book.) Time, mergers, and takeovers have taken their toll.

For example, when Paul Kalmanovitz acquired Pabst Brewing in the mid-1980s, most of the Pabst archive was tossed. (Some of it survived and a few years ago the Kalmanovitz Charitable Trust, the entity that owns Pabst, donated it to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. But the bulk of the the earliest documents -- letters written by and from Philip Best, for example -- have been destroyed.)

So when I heard the news earlier this summer about the InBev offer for A-B, I was concerned. I’m a historian; it’s my job to fret about things like this.

When I was researching my beer book, I was given permission to use of the collection of books, journals, and other documents at the Anheuser-Busch corporate library. The bulk of the A-B library is devoted to technical and scientific journals, but over the years, the company’s librarians have acquired other materials related to beer, brewing, and the brewing industry.

Many of those items are rare; indeed, some of them are the only copies still in existence. For example, the library holds a complete run of Western Brewer, the most important nineteenth-century brewing industry newspaper. Without it, I would have had a hard time writing the chapters two and three of my book. (As far as I know, only one other run of the publication has survived.)

I was not allowed to use the company’s archive, but an employee told me that it contains a massive collection of letters written by Adolphus Busch. Presumably it also includes letters written by other family members and employees as well as other materials documenting the company’s early history. (Again, I don’t know for certain what’s in it; no one let me anywhere near it. Sad to say.)

The fate of the archive and library is probably low on the list of issues A-B’s executives are tackling these days. And A-B employs an able corporate historian; I am confident that she will do her best to safeguard the collections.

But I figured it wouldn’t hurt to throw in my two cents. On July 15, just after Anheuser-Busch announced the sale of the company to InBev, I wrote to August A. Busch IV expressing my hope that he would protect this piece of his family’s (and American brewing's) history. I also mailed copies of the letter to several other A-B executives (the more the merrier, right?)

I’ve now received a reply from one of the people who read the letter. His message was about what one might expect: polite but noncommittal. Frankly, I doubt anyone knows yet what will happen to the archive and library; after all, the lawyers have only just begun to draw up the terms of the sale and disposal of property. And even if someone has made a decision, he/she is certainly not obliged to tell me.

BUT: at least I know that my letter was read and noted. And I am grateful that the person who replied took time to do so. He’s got bigger worries on his mind, not least of which is the specter of unemployment.

Anyway -- I’ve done what I can. I thank the people at A-B for reading my letter. And I hope with all my historian’s heart that these two collections find a safe home.