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"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

Col. Otto Wahrmund
- Beer Business Icon

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

Otto Wahrmund traveled around the country in his own railroad car (the equivalent of today's private jet). He was a director of City National Bank of San Antonio, and he owned shares in a copper mine south of Torreon, Mexico. He served 5 terms as a state representative and was a member of the San Antonio Water Board. But he is best remembered as a founder and general manager of one of the most iconic businesses in Texas. (Hint - it's not Blue Bell, Dr. Pepper or Buc-ee's.)

Wahrmund was born in Fredericksburg on September 19, 1855. His father, William Wahrmund, was a Gillespie County pioneer, stonemason, merchant and long-time county judge. The Wahrmund home still stands on the 200 block of West Main Street in Fredericksburg.

Fredericksburg, TX - William Wahrmund House
William Wahrmund House
206 W. Main St.
Recorded Texas Historic Landmark - 1977
Photo courtesy Michael Barr, April 2023

After graduating from the Texas Military Institute, Otto Wahrmund served in the Texas Volunteer Guard, rising to the rank of colonel. For the rest of his life, newspapers and the general public often called him Col. Wahrmund.

He married Sofie Nimitz, Chester Nimitz's aunt, in 1879. He was in business in Fredericksburg for several years before moving to San Antonio as part of the ownership and management team at the San Antonio Brewing Company.


That company began in 1884 as Jaroslav Behloradsky's City Brewery. Two years later an investment group, led by Oscar Bergstrom, bought City Brewery at a sheriff's sale.

Bergstrom, a lawyer from Pleasant Valley near Boerne, knew nothing about brewing, so he gathered around him some of the best talent in the beer business.

Otto Koehler, born in Germany, had brewing experience in St. Louis and at the Lone Star Brewing Company. Koehler was president and the executive genius behind the San Antonio Brewing Company.

John J. Stevens, a likeable Irish story-teller, was the company secretary. Born and raised in a section of San Antonio called the Irish Flats, just a few blocks from the Alamo, Stevens would later build a mansion in the King William District. Before joining the San Antonio Brewing Company he served as Postmaster of San Antonio. Theodore Roosevelt appointed him to that position.

Otto Wahrmund, vice-president and general manager, was born to run things. He was a serious man, large in stature, with a push broom mustache, a booming voice and a commanding personality. The San Antonio Express described him as a "magnificent figure of a military man."

Bergstrom, Koehler, Wahrmund and Stevens - a Swede, 2 Germans and an Irishman, founded the San Antonio Brewing Company, but it took an unknown German brew master, with a genius for branding, to make the company famous. The brew master thought the bubbles in a freshly poured glass of beer looked like "Perlen" (a bead of pearls). The beer has been called Pearl ever since.

Pearl Brewery, 1910, San Antonio TX
Pearl Brewery in 1910. (Staats Collection)
Click on image for panoramic view
'Notice all three modes of beer transport are shown: train, horse drawn wagon, and delivery truck."

Wikipedia

The two top executives at the company, Koehler and Wahrmund, had very different personalities. The San Antonio Express wrote that when Col. Wahrmund "was ready to leave the Pearl Brewery for the day, he would order his coach, and if the driver failed to hold the reins just right, there was a terrific bawling out. Otto Koehler, on the other hand, would walk to the carriage house himself."

Though different in personality, the two men got along very well. The Express reported "They had adjoining offices with the door open in between, and neither one questioned the judgement of the other."


Then in 1914 Otto Koehler died - shot by his mistress in their little house just off Presa Street. Koehler's widow Emma took over his share of the company. (The Hotel Emma at the Pearl is named for her.)

Meanwhile Otto Wahrmund served 5 terms in the Texas legislature. (Voters elected him to a 6th term but he resigned before being sworn in.) His political career ended in controversy when Wahrmund, as an executive of the San Antonio Brewing Company, made a substantial loan to Governor Jim Ferguson. Wahrmund's political opponents claimed he made the loan in exchange for political favors.

In the summer of 1929, Col. Wahmund and Sofie were spending time at their summer home a mile northeast of Kerrville. On June 21, 1929 he became ill and died on the way to the hospital.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" May 15, 2023 Column



"Hindsights" by Michael Barr

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  • Who was Dr. Schubbert? 4-15-23
  • Early Aviation was Exciting and Dangerous 4-1-23
  • Sober Thoughts on Prohibition 3-15-23
  • Automobile Early Years or Those Crazy Drivers 3-1-23

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