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"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

Robert Penniger:
Early Editor of the Fredericksburg Standard

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

Robert Penniger's wielded considerable influence in Fredericksburg during his tenure as editor of the Wochenblatt and the Standard. Not only was he a skilled printer, he was an exceptional writer. "His vocabulary and his ability to express his ideas helped produce good reading matter for his subscribers," an admirer wrote. "His was the era of flowery writing, and he was a master of that art."

Penniger was born in near Magdeburg, Germany on July 30, 1864. He studied for a career in forestry but became a printer in part because his hometown was one of the great printing centers of Europe.

He was not a specialist like some printers, but learned the trade from the ground up.

A friend explained that as a young man Penniger "became imbibed with the ideas of socialism and consequently the conditions in the fatherland did not appeal to him. Soon he decided that a monarchy government was not for him and that he would emigrate to the United States."

The trip from Bremerhaven to Texas took 3 weeks. Penniger arrived in Galveston on October 24, 1884 aboard the steamship "Ohio."

He got a job as a printer with the Dietzel Brothers, owners of the Galveston Post, doing "stueckardbeit" (piecework) for 25 cents a thousand, but quit when he found out that scale was 27 cents.

He bought a train ticket to Houston but changed his mind along the way and went on to Schulenburg because he liked the German-sounding name. From Schulenburg he went to New Braunfels.

All of his life Penniger was peculiar about his employer. He always worked better for himself.

In New Braunfels he hoped to get a job with the New Braunfels Zeitung, but the owner died a week before Penniger arrived, and the owner's sons didn't seem to have a clue what they were doing.

After working on a farm and as a typesetter for the New Braunfels Post, Penniger moved on to Fredericksburg to work for the Fredericksburg Wochenblatt. Three months later he took a job as bookkeeper and solicitor for the Freie Presse fur Texas, a German language newspaper printed in San Antonio.

Then in June 1890 Penniger bought the Fredericksburg Wochenblatt. On August 3, 1890 he drove a wagon to Fredericksburg hauling a load of newsprint.

Penniger had the perfect temperament for a small town newspaperman. He was a straight shooter. People respected him even if they disagreed with him.

He knew everybody's business, and he was in the middle of everything. "He was a member of every club and fraternal organization in the country during his 29 year stay on Fredericksburg."

In May 1896 he compiled a book of history and recollections for the 50th anniversary of Fredericksburg. His book, Fredericksburg, Texas - The First Fifty Years, is a must-read for history buffs.

Robert Penniger's Book
Robert Penniger's book

It would be only a slight exaggeration to say that Penniger was on a first-name basis with everyone in Gillespie County. He was a friend to John Meusebach. He spoke at Meusebach's funeral in 1897.

As if he didn't have enough to do, Penniger became editor of the Fredericksburg Standard in 1915. Meanwhile he continued to edit the Wochenblatt, and he was manager and stockholder in the Fredericksburg Publishing Company.

He didn't follow the crowd. He was a relentless and noisy advocate for good roads in the days when most Texans were content to wait until the creek went down and the wagon ruts were passable again after a rainy spell. He made one of the earliest trips by automobile from Fredericksburg to San Antonio - described in bone-jarring detail in the Fredericksburg Standard.

Always restless, he moved to back San Antonio in 1920 and bought the Freie Presse fur Texas. He edited that newspaper until his death in 1930.

His obituary, quoted below, was as honest as the man himself. I like to think he would have appreciated it.

"He was a hard worker but no good businessman. He was too public-spirited and liberal to accumulate great wealth."

"He had no political ambitions. In fact, he was too honest to have made a success at it had he tried."

"He lived a useful and upright life."

Robert Penniger portrait
Robert Penniger portrait
courtesy Gillespie County Historical Sociey

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" June 15, 2022 Column
Sources:
"Robert Penniger Was Early Editor Of The Standard," Fredericksburg Standard, March 11, 1964.
"Robert Penniger," Fredericksburg Standard, July 18, 1930.
"Penniger Burial Set For Wednesday," San Antonio Express, July 16, 1930.
"Marschall-Meusebach Family Cemetery Marker Unveiled," Fredericksburg Standard, May 12, 1976.



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