The Budweiser Clydesdales: An American Icon

There are certain things in American society that are icons. You know, things that when you see them, you know just know them, like the golden M for McDonald’s, Muhammad Ali, or the flag raising on Iwo Jima. And while these images or symbols are easily recognizable, how much of their history do you really know?

Last week we had the opportunity to see one of those American icons, the Budweiser Clydesdales and learn more about them. Of course we all know them as the horses in the Super Bowl commercials, but these teams of horses are so much more than just a commercial for a beer manufacturer. The horses have an interesting history behind them, filled with interesting facts you may not know.

The horses that appear in the commercials and fill the harnesses for the iconic wagon team are Clydesdales. In the mid 1800’s the first Clydesdales came to the United States. These draft horses were the descendants of the Great Flemish Horses of Scotland. Draft horses had a reputation for being able to pull massive loads. Once in America, the Clydesdales filled a vital role on farms.

Theodor Horydczak, Library of Congress

But just like with many things of days gone by, technology eventually replaced the need for the Clydesdales’ strength on the farm with modern machinery. These beautiful animals were no longer a necessary part of farming. Thankfully, even before the Budweiser team was formed, many had grown to love these gentle giants, and the breed endured.

So, how did these gentle beasts of burdens come to be tied in with beer? Well you see, the 18th amendment to the United States constitution prohibiting the manufacture, transportation and sale of intoxicating liquors, aka beer. Prohibition was not to last however.  In 1933 congress passed the 21st amendment which repealed Prohibition. So what does that have to do with horses?!?! I’m getting there!

On April 7, 1933, August A. Busch, Jr. and Adolphus Busch III surprised their father, August A. Busch, Sr., with the gift of a six-horse Clydesdale hitch (team of horses) to commemorate the repeal of the prohibition of beer. Realizing the marketing potential of the horse drawn beer wagon, the Budweiser Company also arranged a second hitch team which was sent to New York on April 7, 1933 to mark the end of Prohibition. That team of horses pulled a wagon through the streets of New York City to the Empire State Building where they delivered a case of beer to former Governor Alfred Smith in honor of his work fighting against Prohibition.

But the Budweiser Company didn’t stop there. The hitch of horses went on tour around New England. As the hitch team’s popularity grew, the tour continued to the Midwest as well. Thus the birth of an American icon! From 1933 on, people would think of Budweiser when they saw a Clydesdale. That simple gift to their father and the Budweiser Company’s traveling hitch team was one of the most enduring marketing campaigns ever. But how much do you really know about these amazing horses?

What does it take to be part of the team? 

Well first off, the horse must be a Clydesdale. There are a few more requirements though. To qualify for one of the traveling hitches, a Clydesdale must be a gelding (aka a castrated male.) They have to be at least four years old. They must stand 72 inches at the shoulder and weigh between 1,800 and 2,300 pounds. And they MUST have a bay coat, all four legs are white, a blaze and a black mane and tail.

Once you make the team, then what?

Based in St. Louis, Mo., Clydesdale Operations is responsible for maintaining and scheduling the traveling hitch teams, which are made up of ten horses. The horses, the wagon and other essential equipment are transported in 50-foot tractor-trailers. There are cameras mounted in the trailers which are connected to monitors in the cabs so the drivers can keep an eye on the horses during transport. The trailers are also equipped with air-cushioned suspension and thick rubber flooring.

The teams have groomers which travel with them and tend to their care. The names of the horses are kept short (Duck, Mark, Bud) to make it easier for the groomers and drivers to give commands to the horses. Each day the horse gets 20 to 25 quarts of whole grains, minerals and vitamins. They are also given 50 to 60 pounds of hay, and 30 gallons of water! And of course what goes in, must come out…..

Harnesses and horseshoes, dresses to impress!

Each harness is handcrafted with solid brass, patent leather and stitched with pure linen thread. Each collar weighs around 130 pounds. And while harness are made to fit any Clydesdale, the collars come
in various sizes and are individually fitted to each Clydesdale. Horseshoes are individually fitted as well. Horseshoes for these gentle giants can measure more then 20 inches from end to end and weigh in at around 5 pounds each! 
Not just horses….
What makes up the icon Budweiser Clydesdale Hitch Teams, is not just the horses themselves. The turn-of-the-century beer wagons help complete the image. Each wagon has been painstakingly restored and maintained. The wagons are equipped with two braking systems. The hydraulic pedal device is used to slow the wagon for turns and downhill descents. The hand-brake is used to lock the rear wheels when the wagon is at a halt.

And of course the drivers, dressed in their smart green uniforms help round out the image. The driver endures a lengthy training process before they can become a hitch driver. It is no small task to be in control of 12 tons of wagon and horses! The drivers require expert skill and physical strength. The 40 pounds of lines held by the driver, plus the tension of the horses pulling, creates a weight of over 75 pounds! I bet there are some muscles under those green uniforms! *wink, wink*

What’s up with the dog?

On March 30, 1950, in commemoration of the opening of the Newark Brewery, a Dalmatian was introduced as the Budweiser Clydesdales’ mascot. Since the 1950’s, Dalmatians have traveled with the Clydesdale hitch teams. The Dalmatian breed has long has been associated with horses. Dalmatians were once known as coach dogs because they ran between the wheels of coaches or carriages and were companions to the horses. Dalmatians are know for and valued for their speed, endurance, and dependable nature.

The country kids and I had an amazing time getting to see these amazing animals up close and personal. If you would like to see this American Icon, check out the hitch team schedule or you can visit the breeding facility at Warm Springs Ranch or the training facility at Grant’s Farm.

I have NOT been compensated for blogging about the Budweiser Clydesdales. We were studying amendments, governmental checks and balances, prohibition and it’s repeal in homeschool. We were lucky enough the hitch team just happened to be making an appearance an hour from our home at a museum that was hosting a prohibition exhibit

18 thoughts on “The Budweiser Clydesdales: An American Icon

  1. Great post! I love seeing the Shire horses I'v seen. And I do think you meant "descendants", not decedants (someone dead)…

  2. And here I just thought Budweiser was just a beer brand! Love learning new things. Stopping by from the Inspire Me Monday hop, come say hi!

  3. Thanks for the history lesson! It is so cool! We actually had the opportunity to meet some of the horses quite a few years ago. Some of them are kept at California's Sea World (or they were then.) The only ones I remember names for are Jack and Jake, because Jake is my dad's name!

  4. I had no idea about any of that! How interesting and how great that you were able to see them yourselves.
    There is a Shire horse centre not far from where my grandparent lived when I was growing up and I used to love visiting, such beautiful animals.

  5. If you're studying this in the context of Prohibition, you must check out "The Brewer's Big Horses Won't Run Over Me!," a Prohibition campaign song by Rodeheaver

    Prohibitionists viewed these horses much the same way that anti-smoking campaigners viewed "Joe Camel" – a way to lure children into a vice.

    I was raised by Prohibitionists : )


      Here – this is direct to the song itself : )

  6. Years ago we visited Grants Farm in St. Louis and saw the Clydesdales. They were beautiful !!! And what impressed me the most was their stable. It was gorgeous with brick floors. It also was so clean that you could eat off the floors. I would have lived in the stable. Thanks for sharing.

  7. I've always been fascinated by Clydesdale horses they look so majestic. Thank you for providing such an informative post for us at #WednesdaysWisdom and hope to see you at our new link up the Over the Moon linkup on December 7

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