In May 1955, LIFE published an article—and a series of pictures by Margaret Bourke-White—featuring what the magazine called “the liveliest, lustiest family dynasty” in America: the Busch clan.
Here, apropos of nothing, really—other than that it’s summer, when so many people’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of beer—LIFE.com presents a whole series of Bourke-White’s portraits, most of which never ran in LIFE, of the family whose fortune was built, and even today is sustained, on suds.
In 1865 [LIFE wrote] a German immigrant named Adolphus Busch took over a small, failing brewery in St. Louis. In the decades since, the brewery has become the largest in the world, last year selling over 719 million foamy quarts of beer. In that same period period the Missouri family Busch has become just about the liveliest, lustiest family dynasty in the country.
Today the chief executive of Anheuser-Busch Inc., and in consequence the head of the sprawling family, is Adolphus’ grandson, a gregarious, impulsive, hoarse-voiced, 56-year-old extrovert name August Anheuser Busch jr., who is hardly ever called anything but Gussie. Gussie and the other present members of the family have lost little of the fierce, competitive genius with which their predecessors kept he world of hops hopping. And unlike the later generations of some robust business families, they have not noticeably slid into the sedentary or intellectual pleasures of wealth. They continue to love the outdoors, fine horses, huge houses full of hunting trophies, big families, roaring parties and beery choruses of “Im Wald and auf der Heide.”
The baronial splendor amid which Gussie lives with his handsome wife and their children prompts St. Louisans to say the Busches really live like German merchant princes of an earlier age. But their way of life adds a memorably exuberant and expansive segment to the American scene.