William Menger Painted Portrait, n.d.

William Menger Painted Portrait, n.d.

William Achatius Menger


William A. Menger, the son of a master miller in Hanau, Electorate of Hesse, came to prominence as one of the most successful business owners in the frontier state of Texas in the 1860s and 1870s. His Menger hotel, a tourist staple in San Antonio to this day, was a vital and elegant dwelling that catered to military and civilian travelers alike, and housed the largest brewery in the state of Texas for decades.


William A. Menger (born March 15, 1827 in Windecken, Electorate of Hesse; died March 18, 1871 in San Antonio, TX), the son of a master miller in Hanau, Electorate of Hesse, came to prominence as one of the most successful business owners in the frontier state of Texas in the 1860s and 1870s. His Menger hotel, a tourist staple in San Antonio to this day, was a vital and elegant dwelling that catered to military and civilian travelers alike, and housed the largest brewery in the state of Texas for decades.

Menger, a hotelier, brewer, cooper, and civic leader, immigrated to the United States from Hesse at the age of twenty. He settled in Texas and married Mary Baumschlueter Guenther, a widow and boardinghouse keeper, in San Antonio. When William Menger arrived in San Antonio around 1850, he joined the founding generation of an enduring German entrepreneurial class in central and western Texas, as well as a broader German-Texan ethnic community that extended across the state. Observing the commercial potential of the frontier city, he expanded his wife’s boardinghouse and combined it with his own brewery operation in the mid-1850s. By 1859 he was in a position to commission the construction of an elegant, $15,000 (approximately $420,000 in 2011$) hotel building on land next to the historic Alamo, at the time a military depot.[1] The Mengers strove to provide their patrons with amenities and service that had previously been rare or nonexistent in central Texas. The Menger Hotel quickly became the leading hotel in San Antonio by attracting bar patrons and hotel guests with its high-quality beer and its location at the crossroads of military operations and trade to Mexico and the Indian frontiers. Distinguished visitors to the city stayed there, and the hotel was an important landmark of San Antonian civic and cultural life. Menger’s Western Brewery was the largest in Texas throughout the 1860s and remained so for more than a decade after Menger’s 1871 death at the age of 45. His widow Mary Menger and their son Louis William Menger managed the hotel for ten years until the family sold the business in 1881 to J.H. Kampmann, the local German builder who had constructed the hotel. Kampmann and his successors maintained the standards of luxury and convenience that William Menger had set, and the Menger Hotel survives today in its original location.

Family Background and Geographical Context

William Achatius Menger was born in Windecken (approximately twelve kilometers north of Hanau and twenty kilometers east of Frankfurt), Electorate of Hesse, on March 15, 1827. His father worked as a mill master in Hanau. William Menger traveled extensively in his youth, plying his trade as a cooper (barrel-maker) and perhaps learning the brewing trade as well. In 1847, at the age of twenty, he set out from the port of Bremen on the ship Johannes, and landed at Baltimore. He made his way west to San Antonio, Texas, by around 1850, where he became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1852, the first year in which he was eligible.[2]

Nineteenth-century Texas was a complex, multi-ethnic, and multi-racial society. German immigration into Texas began in earnest after a society of German noblemen sponsored a large-scale colonization project beginning in 1844. Although the immigration society collapsed within a few years, many immigrants continued to choose Texas as a destination because of its open lands and its widespread reputation for having a free, republican government. This reputation derived in large part from the war of independence that Texans had fought with the Mexican government in 1835-1836. The United States’ annexation of Texas in 1845 encouraged additional migration by providing Texans with the military and financial backing of the U.S. government. By 1850 Texas counted over 8,000 German-born individuals among its population.[3]

Most immigrants from the German states settled along a “German Belt” that stretched from cities like Galveston and Indianola on the Gulf Coast to the isolated farming communities in the Central Texas Hill Country north and west of San Antonio. Early German-Texans were mainly families of farmers and artisans from many different areas within the German-speaking states, the Habsburg Empire, and Alsace. The bustling city of New Braunfels in Comal County became the main German town in the eastern half of Texas’ German Belt. The smaller town of Fredericksburg, founded in 1846 beyond the edge of Anglo-American settlement, became a center for farming families in the western half of the German Belt. Although most German immigrants had planned to farm in Texas, German settlers resided disproportionately in urban areas after arriving in the state, constituting just over five percent of the state’s white population in 1850 but fully twenty-five percent of its urban population. Concentrated German communities were noticeable in ethnically mixed cities including Galveston, Houston, and Austin. In San Antonio, Germans constituted almost one-third of the population in 1850. Many German men brought with them skills, craft knowledge, or education that commanded relatively high wages in towns, while others who arrived without sufficient capital to start a farm worked as laborers until they saved enough to buy land and equipment. The early German-Texan colonies of the 1840s prompted further chain migration. In spite of a high mortality rate among the first waves of migrants, the German ethnic community grew throughout the century: the number of German-born Texans increased to almost 50,000 in 1900. By the turn of the century, approximately 110,000 Texas natives had at least one German parent. Most German Texans did not retain a fixed set of traditions but created a dynamic German cultural world in their new homes — they spoke German, built schools, and formed German-oriented singing clubs, gymnastic societies, churches, and other institutions across the state in the mid- to late nineteenth century.[4]

One East Coast journalist visiting Texas in 1874 observed the importance of the German immigrant business community to the economy of San Antonio. German business owners were a prominent and economically active addition to the whole region. He reported, “The Germans have settled several thriving places west of San Antonio, the most noted of which is Fredericksburg. German and Jewish names are certainly over the doors of more than half the business houses in San Antonio; and German or Hebrew talent conducts many vast establishments which have trade with the surrounding country, or with Mexico.”[5]

San Antonio was a large city by Texas standards, with over seven hundred households and three thousand residents of diverse cultural backgrounds, including native Hispanic Texans or Tejanos, Anglo-Americans, immigrants from Germany, France, and Mexico, and a few African Americans, most of whom were held as slaves by Anglo-Americans. Until the 1850s, members of American Indian tribes, especially the powerful Comanches, also passed through San Antonio for trade, meetings with government officials, and livestock raiding. This diversity lessened the perception of ethnic differences among German immigrants, and as a whole German Texans created broad networks of social, kin, voluntary, and business connections, although internal distinctions of education and class remained significant.

The city of San Antonio had been subject to demographic instability and border-related violence for many years until U.S. annexation in 1845 and the U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848) brought larger numbers of Anglo-Americans settlers and military personnel into the area. The friction between ethnic groups in the borderlands of South Texas and West Texas continued, and the Indian Wars lasted through the 1870s and 1880s. In the mid-nineteenth century the city became the hub for military supply lines to the U.S. frontier forts west and south of the city, and it was also a favorite stopping point for troops and officers on their way to or from their posts. San Antonians were well positioned to take advantage of the federal government’s military spending, as well as the vital civilian trade from the Gulf Coast ports to interior Texas and Northern Mexico. After 1849, some prospectors on their way to the California gold fields chose an overland route that took them across Texas, and most of them bought supplies for their journey in San Antonio. With so much demand for freighting services, farmers with an oxcart or wagon could make extra money hauling goods for merchants or the U.S. Army during the winter months. The city grew quickly to surpass Galveston as the largest city in the state by 1860, with over eight thousand residents. The population was more than twelve thousand in 1870, and twenty thousand in 1880. For a well-traveled and savvy youth like William Menger, the small but dynamic frontier city seemed to promise opportunities for economic growth and development.[6]

Outside of the native Hispanic community and the growing settlements of German immigrant families, San Antonio was overwhelming male in the early 1850s. The city’s many single men often lived in boardinghouses such as the one run by Mary Baumschlueter (or Baumschluder) Guenther in 1850. Proprietors typically provided a place for boarders to sleep, cooked for residents, and washed their laundry. Menger was one of the residents at the house who benefited from Mary’s excellent cooking. One memoirist later reported that he had seen Menger working at the establishment, setting the table in the boardinghouse around 1849.[7]

Mary had emigrated from Hannover to Texas with her mother in 1846 as a young woman. Her mother died within a few weeks of their arrival, however, and Mary went to work for an American family, the Howards, for two dollars a month (approximately $60 in 2011$). In 1848 she married fellow German Emil Guenther, a butcher from Oldenburg in the Grand Duchy of Oldenburg. The Guenthers operated a boardinghouse in a modest two-story building they rented in downtown San Antonio at the corner of Commerce and St. Mary’s Streets, next to the San Antonio River. Before long, both Emil and the couple’s infant child died and Mary again found herself without a family. In July 1851, the widow married William Menger.[8]

Mary Menger was eleven years older than her husband, William. She was a Catholic, while he was a Lutheran. The Catholic priest from the Alsatian colony at Castroville, thirty miles from San Antonio, came into town to perform their wedding. Over the next nine years the couple had four children: Louis William (1852-1919), Mary (1854-1856), Peter Gustav (1857-1914), and Catherine Barbara (1860-1947). Mary died as an infant, but the other three Menger children survived to adulthood, married, and had their own children. The Menger children were raised in the Catholic Church, and several of Mary and William’s grandchildren joined holy orders.[9]

Early Business Activities

William Menger started a cooperage using his previous training and experience as a barrel maker. Making barrels was an important business at that time, as barrels were the main protection and transport container for everything from molasses and bacon to flour and crackers. In a city centered on freighting, the choice was a sound one. At the same time, he and Mary continued to operate the boardinghouse.

After a few years, Menger, who had experience in the beer industry, decided to shift his focus from making barrels to filling them. In 1855 he built a brewery just east of Alamo Plaza, despite the fact that the commercial centers of the city were some distance away in Main Plaza and Military Plaza. William Menger bought enough land to allow for subsequent expansion of his varied enterprises. Menger’s Western Brewery was probably the first commercial brewery in Texas and certainly the largest.[10]

The next year, he hired Carl Degen to run the brewery’s operations. Degen was a German master brewer who found that he could provide a better living for himself through his craft knowledge than through his previous occupation, farming. He had first immigrated to Texas around 1850 and farmed on the Medina River south of San Antonio. He soon left for the Gold Rush in California, and then stopped over in South America for some time before returning to Texas. When he returned, he settled in San Antonio and went to work brewing beer for Menger.[11]

In 1855 the Mengers decided to move and enlarge their boardinghouse. They supervised construction of a one-story wooden building on the east side of Alamo Plaza, at the corner of Blum Street, very close to William’s brewery. Because the location was off the beaten path, the Mengers devised an innovative means for marketing the boardinghouse’s restaurant and attracting dinner customers. They ran carriages to and from the other city plazas in order to bring customers to Alamo Plaza. The high-quality beer produced in the brewery also attracted boarders and diners, and the two Menger businesses grew together.[12]

The Hotel

Just two years after the move to Alamo Plaza, Menger contracted with prominent San Antonio builder J.H. Kampmann, a Prussian by birth, to construct a two-story stone hotel at the same location. Kampmann held a mortgage on the building and land. John M. Fries, a Bavarian-born local architect, is credited with designing the building. The foundations were laid in June 1858, and work was completed in time for a grand opening celebration on February 1, 1859. News about the hotel’s construction attracted favorable attention in the press prior to its opening. A New York magazine, Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, anticipated the “fine new hotel” near the Alamo which was being built by “an enterprising German.” The public was invited to tour the hotel and enjoy a reception on the opening night. Positive reviews ran in local, regional, and national papers. Newspapers from Texas towns like Bastrop and Seguin, as well as the New Orleans Picayune, described the establishment with superlatives. The praise brought travelers to the Menger Hotel, and its existence elevated San Antonio’s standing among cities nationwide.[13]

The guest rooms of the hotel were fully booked with army officers, their families, and visiting Texas merchants by the third night of hotel operations. The new facility was such a success that plans to build a forty-room annex began to be discussed almost immediately. Menger again contracted with Kampmann for more than $20,000 (approximately $560,000 in 2011$) to construct the addition, which he built snugly between the main building and the brewery behind it. A tunnel connected the hotel to the brewery, where Menger would lead special guests on tours of its operations. Especially in the years before the railroad finally arrived in San Antonio in 1877, the Menger’s fine stables were also an important attraction for the traveling public.[14]

The Mengers hired more employees as their hotel grew. In July 1860 the Menger family, two bookkeepers (one with his own family), two barkeepers, a steward, a cook, a watchman, four servants, a baker, a laborer, and six waiters were enumerated in the federal census as residents of the Menger Hotel household, in addition to over two dozen apparent hotel guests. Many of the early employees were German immigrants as well. Menger was thus able to draw upon the existing skills of German San Antonians to build a service-based enterprise that had no equal in the city at the time.[15]

One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Menger Hotel was the quality and variety of its food, an achievement that is easy to underestimate. The distinctive agricultural practices and food preferences of European immigrants provided Central Texas with a wider range of food choices than otherwise would have been available. German Texans were responsible for planting many of the orchards in the state, as well as growing grains other than corn. Under the direction of Mary Menger, the hotel acquired venison, wild turkey, quail, bear meat, and buffalo, as well as chicken, fish, ducks, and turtle. Meat could be preserved in the cool underground vaults along with the beer. Mary used cash to do most of the day-to-day purchasing for the kitchen. She took advantage of the diversified agriculture of many of the state’s German immigrants, who supplied most of the fruits and vegetables for the San Antonio market. These farmers grew grains, fruits, and vegetables that were uncommon among Anglo-American farmers who settled in the region, and they did more extensive dairying than their Anglo and Tejano neighbors. Mary Menger’s menus included a tremendous variety of dishes that incorporated many local ingredients like wild honey, butter, pecans, Irish and sweet potatoes, green peppers, turnips, and garlic. She also bought oats and rye from German miller C.H. Guenther and other groceries from Frenchman Honore Grenet.[16]

In addition to Mary’s use of the local market to provision the hotel restaurant, the hotel drew on long and complex supply chains for many other goods. William Menger raised and butchered his own hogs for hams, bacon, and sausage, but the hotel also bought pork. Menger recognized that local products alone, despite the diverse agricultural offerings introduced by recent European immigrants, were not enough to make the Menger a world-class hotel. Thus, William Menger also procured champagne, wine, claret, sherry, and whiskey. The hotel imported items like tea, cod fish, seasonal cranberries, sultana raisins, English currents, and stuffed olives. Menger gained fame by arranging shipments of ice from Boston to Indianola, where it was loaded into special wagons and hauled overland to the hotel. In the hot Texas climate long before the development of refrigeration technology, the ice was a welcome luxury. Patrons wishing to have ice with their whiskey had to pay extra, of course.[17]

The Menger Hotel also succeeded by becoming a landmark for the region’s social and civic life. The Mengers capitalized on the community’s need for a fitting venue to receive visiting dignitaries in grand style. Political groups convened there before and after the Civil War for talks. The city’s Independence Day celebrations during Reconstruction were held with officials giving speeches from a stand at the hotel. Parade routes often called for groups to organize in front of the Menger, and socials and parties for departing army officers were common as well.[18]

Remarkably, the Menger Hotel remained open for almost the entire Civil War. In spite of the Union blockade, it was able to continue operating, and soldiers — now under Confederate States authority — continued to stay there. Menger used contacts in South and West Texas to acquire goods through Mexican ports, and even sold a variety of goods to the Confederate Army itself. The hotel was closed for a period late in the war, possibly for renovation, and held a grand re-opening event in January 1865.[19]

During Reconstruction the city’s many Unionist Germans experienced a revival of their political fortunes. Leaders in the German-Texan community occupied many prominent offices, including San Antonio Mayor Wilhelm Thielepape, U.S. Congressman Edward Degener, and others. The German-Texan ethnic networks were increasingly tied to the Union Army in the area. Germans prepared a welcome for the occupying troops when they returned to the city after the war, and greeted a resumption of their social and business connections.[20]

The victorious Union Army administered Texas initially from the strategically critical port city of Galveston in 1865. Authorities soon moved their headquarters to the political capital, Austin, and from there considered how best to transition from Civil War military operations into full-scale frontier warfare against the Comanches and Apaches. The Army again began operating its large quartermaster and subsistence depots in San Antonio, but by 1867 Washington officials wanted to move the center of their Texan supply operations elsewhere. The city was no longer the obvious choice for a military headquarters. While San Antonio had suffered no destruction in the war, other Texas cities had made strides in rail transportation and had modernized in various ways since the 1850s. San Antonio was still ten years from completing a railroad connection to Galveston, and Army facilities in the city were expensive to rent and inadequate.[21]

Much of the Mengers’ business both before and after the war depended directly and indirectly on the presence of the military and its supply hub near their hotel. After the war, William Menger’s wealth acquired through the hotel business placed him into a category of former Confederate state residents who lost some civil rights. In order to have these restrictions lifted, Menger petitioned for a special pardon from the federal government. Menger’s petition stressed that the good relationship between himself and the Union, especially the Union Army, was mutually beneficial. He asked for a quick response to his petition “as the improvement of his business [was] necessary to the convenience and comfort of the United States Army, whose patronage he ha[d] always received.”[22]

Threatened with the withdrawal of the government post in 1867, Menger moved quickly to change the Army’s calculus in favor of San Antonio and keep military personnel in the city. He commissioned a military facility to be built opposite the Menger Hotel in 1867, and designed it according to Army specifications. It included a large warehouse and two cisterns for a reliable water supply. The federal government then leased these buildings from Menger at a low rate. Word came in 1869 that the Army would stay in San Antonio, and this decision was officially confirmed in 1870, when Congress appropriated money to build a permanent, government-owned facility there. The Army continued to rent from the Mengers until Fort Sam Houston was ready for use in 1877.[23]

The Menger Hotel continued to be a central civic and business address for decades after the war. William Menger died suddenly of natural causes at the hotel in March 1871, at the young age of forty-five years old. Without him, the family and the business had to adapt. Mary Menger selected her eldest son Louis William as the new manager of the hotel, and under their joint management the hotel survived the loss of its popular founder. Indeed, many of the hotel’s famous guests arrived in the years after 1871: author William Sydney Porter (also known as O. Henry), U.S. Secretary of War William Beknap, General Philip Sheridan, and President Ulysses S. Grant were among the guests during this period. The fame of the hotel grew through the years, especially when Teddy Roosevelt visited the Menger in 1892, 1898, 1905, and during a visit by President McKinley in 1901. Roosevelt recruited some of his famous Rough Riders while at the Menger Hotel in May of 1898, and trained his men at nearby Fort Sam Houston.[24]

Sidney Lanier, the famous Southern poet and musician, traveled to San Antonio for his health in 1872-1873. His descriptions of Texas, which were published in the New York World and Southern Magazine, included passages about the Menger Hotel. In unpublished letters to his wife he also exclaimed: “San Antonio is charming. The hotel at [which] I am stopping is of stone, with a fine paved court in the rear, after the manner of the Cuban hotels, and fair broad pavement in front where we sit in arm-chairs and look out upon the Alamo Plaza.” Lanier explained that the mixture of people from many nations which had been “grotesque” to him in Austin was more refined and “picturesque” in San Antonio. The Menger Hotel contributed to his affection for the city, “the only spot in Texas which has not greatly disappointed me.” He described in detail the care of the waiters — “all German boys and young men, in shirt-sleeves and slipshod slippers” — who served the delicious meats, vegetables, crisp lettuce, pastry and coffee in the dining room. Lanier was too tired to attend a fine officers’ ball in the hotel on the night he wrote the letter, but he enjoyed the orchestra music that wafted through the air. Soon after his arrival, Lanier had to transfer to a cheaper hotel, the Vance House. Thanks in part to the initial hospitality and the cultural atmosphere of the Menger Hotel, however, Lanier stayed in San Antonio for more than three months. He had originally planned to stay just a few days.[25]

As Lanier’s descriptions suggest, Mary and her son Louis Menger maintained the standards of hospitality set by William Menger. They managed the hotel until 1881, ten years after his death. During these years there were periodic floods of travelers, as in May 1875 when they had to place beds in the halls and parlors to accommodate extra guests. Mary Menger bought additional land to accommodate further expansion of the hotel, and oversaw the installation of modern gaslights. Some in the local press, nevertheless, worried that the Menger did not have accoutrements such as bells, bathrooms, or proper water closets, which meant that it could not match the high standards set by New York City hotels.[26]

In spite of these concerns, the Menger management continued to attract illustrious guests and offer them outstanding hospitality. When President Ulysses S. Grant visited in March 1880 the menu from his reception (printed in French) demonstrated the Mengers’ capable organization and commitment to luxury. There were oysters as an appetizer, trout in mayonnaise, filet of beef, fried chicken with mushrooms, roast turkey, peas, potato croquettes, salad, and asparagus, as well as desserts including apricot tarts, strawberry meringues, Charlotte Russe, cream-filled oranges, fruit cake, and lady fingers.[27]

In 1881 Mary and Louis Menger sold the Menger Hotel for $118,500 (approximately $2.7 million 2011$) — $110,000 for the property and $8,500 for the furniture — to its original builder, J.H. Kampmann. The local German newspaper, the Freie Presse Für Texas, intimated that the sale had been forced by Kampmann, who still held a lien on the property. That same year work on the new east wing was completed. Kampmann, in turn, leased the business to others for several years, until his own son, Hermann Kampmann, took over direct management in 1887. The hotel continued to prosper through the early twentieth century, survived the Great Depression, and underwent major restoration in the 1940s and again in the 1980s. The Menger Hotel was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1976, and as of 2011 it is a member of the Preferred Hotels Group. It remains a luxurious monument to the organizational talents and cosmopolitan vision of German-American pioneers William and Mary Menger. Their experience with European food and hospitality, as well as their extensive personal and business networks among merchants and other migrants who could offer distinctive or hard-to-find goods and services, helped to define the unique style of the hotel that served as a distinct brand during its early decades.[28]

The Brewery

Even before building his brewery in 1855, William Menger foresaw important physical and logistical challenges to his brewing operation and planned his business strategy accordingly. The hot climate of Texas presented obstacles to the production of the lager beer that was favored by Germans. In contrast to British ales, porters, and stouts, lager beers needed to stay cool for up to nine months during the fermentation process. In building his brewery on the east side of Alamo Plaza, Menger chose a location that was unlikely to flood when the water rose in the nearby San Antonio River and provided a means for cooling the cellar vaults by utilizing the spring waters of the Alamo Madre irrigation ditch or acequia. He also had the cellar built with three-foot-thick walls to aid in refrigeration, so that he and brewmaster Carl Degen were able to brew beer throughout the year.[29]

Menger’s Western Brewery was just steps from the U.S. Army’s Quartermaster Depot. In the 1850s the Union Army rented the buildings of the Alamo compound from the Catholic Church for the purposes of storing feed and munitions. Soldiers and officers were reliable customers for Menger’s beer, as were members of the growing Texas-German community. Menger’s business records show beer shipments to various other towns, including neighboring immigrant strongholds of Boerne, Comfort, and Kerrville, as well as destinations as far as Fort Concho, more than two hundred miles away.[30]

Menger’s organizational skills allowed him to create long and complex supply lines for his hotel and brewing operations alike. Hops and malt for the beer came via New York. Brewmaster Carl Degen had Irish and California hops and malt shipped to the port of Indianola and freighted overland to San Antonio. In the 1870s, he ordered hops from Cincinnati. In just ten months from May 1865 until February 1866, Menger made and sold enough beer from his brewery to pay $2,614 (approximately $38,000 in 2011$) in “fermented liquor” taxes. He bought out a competitor, the Naylor Brewery, in 1868. By the 1870s the Western Brewery under Carl Degen’s management was by far the largest in the state, producing 1,666 barrels per year.[31]

The Menger family continued to operate its large, regional brewery for six years after William Menger died in 1871. The railroad came to San Antonio in 1877, bringing with it an increase in tourists and trade opportunities, but also competition from national beer companies; Anheuser-Busch expanded into Texas from its St. Louis base soon thereafter. Louis Menger and his mother, Mary, closed the Western Brewery at its peak in 1878. The man in direct charge of production, Carl Degen, had worked as brewmaster for the Mengers for more than twenty years, drawing wages of $75 (approx. $1,700 in 2011$) per month as of 1875.[32] When Louis and Mary shuttered the Western Brewery, they dismantled it and freed up space to add another annex to the Menger hotel, this one a three-story, L-shaped addition with more than one hundred rooms. Degen purchased the equipment and set up his own small brewery further east on Blum Street. He continued to produce beer in San Antonio for thirty-three more years.[33]

Personal Status and Civic Activities

The Mengers’ business successes made them wealthy. In the 1860 federal census, W.A. Menger, “Hotel Keeper,” declared a personal estate worth $10,000 and real estate valued at $45,000 (approximately $279,000 and $1.3 million 2011$ respectively). He later reported that he also owned eight slaves, although they did not appear in the slave schedules of the 1860 census. He subsequently employed several freedmen and freedwomen in the brewery for wages.[34]

During the Civil War, Menger continued to operate his business and did not volunteer for service in the Confederate military. He traded with private business associates and with Confederate authorities in San Antonio. During the course of the war he sold a variety of goods to the Confederate military, including rifles, tallow, corn, shingles, mules, hoop iron, hose, horses, wheat, and salt. Eventually he was conscripted and sent to a training camp for a period of time until he was found to be unfit for field service for unknown reasons. In spite of his absence the hotel and brewery continued to grow, although his personal wealth declined during the 1860s, probably as a result of the war. In 1870 he valued his real estate at $65,000 (approximately $1.2 million 2011$), and his personal estate at just $3,000 (approximately $53,000 2011$); still, this was a substantial fortune for a frontier innkeeper and brewer.[35]

Both William and Mary Menger were active in the public and religious affairs of their adopted city. William served as an alderman in the San Antonio municipal government for a brief period in 1857. He later found his true civic calling when he founded and led a volunteer fire company, the Alamo Fire Association Number Two, beginning in 1859. In 1867 Menger made a trip to Europe for business. On his return in 1868, he purchased a steam fire engine for the company for $4,000 (approximately $63,000 in 2011$) in New York City. He also paid to ship the engine to Indianola and haul it overland to San Antonio, which became the first city in Texas to have such modern fire-fighting equipment. Menger invested in new technology for the public good, recognizing that the growth of fire companies and the improvement of their equipment also improved the general business climate in San Antonio by lessening risks to life and property.[36]

Catholic institutions received a great deal of support from both of the Mengers. Mary Menger was especially active in the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and its orphanage and school, but also contributed to the establishment of the first Jewish synagogue in San Antonio.[37]

William Menger’s sudden death at the hotel on March 18, 1871, was mourned by the whole city as he was a “universal favorite with all classes” for his character, public spiritedness, and charity. He was remembered as always ready to help the poor and to assist in any plan that would advance the interests of his adopted city. His funeral was conducted by the other members of his Odd Fellows fraternity and by Rev. Grossweiler of the German Lutheran Church.[38]


William A. Menger was able to recognize the potential demand for convenient and elegant accommodation in an underserved, frontier region. For more than twenty years, including the period of the Civil War, he and his family expanded continually their facilities and improved them as new technologies became available.

Menger was also aware that among the pool of recent German immigrants in Texas there were many with skills that were underutilized in agriculture and unskilled labor. Masters of their craft, like brewer Carl Degen, might not have had the capital, social connections, knowledge of long-distance trade, or business savvy to start specialty production on their own. Building on the experience they acquired while working for Menger, they were able to exercise their skills and develop management expertise, which enabled them to later establish their own local specialty businesses.

Menger’s entrepreneurial activities helped San Antonio grow as a regional hub and expanded existing regional, national, and international trade networks and commercial routes. His and Mary Menger’s emphasis on good food and drink also helped to establish a market for varied and luxury foodstuffs, many of which had to be produced by, and bought from, local farmers. The hotel and the brewery were able to attract visitors and new migrants who had refined tastes; the prominence of the Menger Hotel also exposed local consumers to an international standard of hospitality and service. William A. Menger’s entrepreneurial achievements had a positive impact on the image of Texas among visitors from other parts of the country and the world. As an employer and a commercial buyer, Menger also helped to support skilled trades, local service-sector workers, and the diversification of regional agricultural production.


[1] All 2011 financial figures based on Samuel H. Williamson, “Seven Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount, 1774 to present,” using the Consumer Price Index, MeasuringWorth, 2011.

[2] Menger himself later attested that he had lived in St. Louis in 1850 and then arrived in Texas in 1851. Other sources in the family archive and elsewhere state that he had arrived in Texas by 1847. Compare “William A. Menger. San Antonio, Texas, Application for Special Pardon,” 1865, Confederate Amnesty Papers, Texas, Footnote.com, to Rev. Eugene Sugranes, “Memoirs of the Menger Family,” ts., ca. 1930, Menger Family Papers, University of the Incarnate Word Library, San Antonio. “Baltimore Passenger Lists, 1820-1948,” record for Wilh Menger, Ancestry.com (Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations, 2006). His name does not appear in the population schedules for the 1850 federal census for Bexar County, Texas. “Founder of Historic Menger Hotel in San Antonio Came to This City From Germany in 1847,” Southern Messenger (San Antonio, TX), November 29, 1945. This and subsequent articles from this issue of the Southern Messenger are from clippings in the subject file “Menger, W.A.” at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas, Austin.

[3] 1850 U.S. Census figures from tables in Dagmar Ausperg-Hackert, Deutsche Auswanderung nach Texas im 19. Jahrhundert (Ph.D. diss, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, 1984), 56. For more on the noblemen’s colonization society (Adelsverein) and the demographic structure of the early migrations, see Gilbert Giddings Benjamin, The Germans in Texas: A Study in Immigration (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1909); Rudolph Biesele, The History of the German Settlements in Texas, 1831-1861 (Austin, TX: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1930); Hubert G.H. Wilhelm, Organized German Settlement and Its Effects on the Frontier of South-Central Texas (New York: Arno Press, 1980); Chester William Geue and Ethel Hander Geue, A New Land Beckoned: German Immigration to Texas, 1844-1847 (Waco: Texian Press, 1972); and for a German perspective, see Stefan von Senger und Etterlin, Neu-Deutschland in Nordamerika: Massenauswanderung, nationale Gruppenansiedlungen und liberale Kolonialbewegung, 1815-1860 (Baden-Baden, Germany: Nomos, 1991), esp. 214-322, 355-368. Other general works include Theodore Gish and Richard Spule, eds., Eagle in the New World: German Immigration to Texas and America (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1986); Beate Rese, Texas: Ziel Deutscher Einwanderung im 19. Jahrhundert (Pfaffenweiler, Germany: Centaurus, 1996).

[4] Glen E. Lich, The German Texans (San Antonio: University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, 1981), 38. Terry Jordan, German Seed in Texas Soil Immigrant Farmers in Nineteenth-Century Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1966), 51, 55, 57. Terry Jordan, “The German Settlement of Texas after 1865,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 73:2 (October, 1969): 193-212.

[5] Edward King, “The Great South: Glimpses of Texas, I,” Scribner’s Monthly 7:3 (January 1874): 302-331, quotation 320.

[6] See Thomas T. Smith, The U.S. Army and the Texas Frontier Economy, 1845-1900 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1999), esp. 8-11, 131-133. Rena Mazyck Andrews, “German Pioneers in Texas: Civil War Period” (M.A. thesis, University of Chicago, 1929), 22, 21. Eighth Census, Population of the United States in 1860 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1864), 486-487, Ninth Census, The Statistics of the Population of the United States (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1872), 270; T. R. Fehrenbach, “SAN ANTONIO, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (accessed July 18, 2011).

[7] Because the exact dates of Emil Guenther’s death and William Menger’s arrival in San Antonio are not known, it is unclear whether Menger lived in the house while Guenther was still alive. Sources also disagree as to whether Mary Guenther started the boardinghouse only after her husband’s death, or if she and Emil Guenther operated the boardinghouse together until he died. Neither Mary Baumschlueter Guenther nor William Menger appears in the 1850 Manuscript Census Schedules. Compare Sugranes, “Memoirs of the Menger Family,” to Julius Dresel, “Julius Dresel Diary” in Cyde Porter, The Dresel Family (unpublished typescript, 1952), 902, irr. pag., and Sam Woolford, “Menger Hotel Role in S.A. Growth Shown,” San Antonio Light (San Antonio, Texas), February 1, 1959, 6-E.

[8] Sugranes, “Memoirs of the Menger Family,” 2-4; Texas Marriage Collection, 1814-1909 and 1966-2002, Ancestry.com (Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2005); “Julius Dresel Diary,” 902.

[9] Sugranes, “Memoirs of the Menger Family,” 4-5, 7.

[10] Michael C. Hennech and Tracé Etienne-Gray, “Brewing Industry,” Handbook of Texas Online (accessed June 24, 2011).

[11] Sam Woolford, “Menger Hotel Role in S.A. Growth Shown,” San Antonio Light (San Antonio, TX), February 1, 1959, 6-E, and “Young Brewmaster Made Menger Beer Popular,” San Antonio Light, February 15, 1959, clippings in Menger Family Papers, Univ. of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio.

[12] Ibid.; Typescript biographical summary of William A. Menger, Vertical Files, Institute of Texan Cultures Library, San Antonio. San Antonio Express (San Antonio, TX), March 21, 1871.

[13] Inez Strickland Dalton, “The Menger Hotel: San Antonio’s Civic and Social Center, 1859-1877,” West Texas Historical Association Year Book 32 (October, 1956): 85-102, quotation 86. Aragorn Storm Miller, “Kampmann, John Herman,” Handbook of Texas Online (accessed June 25, 2011); and Christopher Long, “Fries, John M.,” Handbook of Texas Online (accessed June 25, 2011).

[14] Contract between Kampmann and Menger dated April 19, 1859, photocopy of page from Bexar County Deed Book, “Germans—Menger Hotel,” Subject Files, Institute of Texan Cultures Library (ITC); “Menger’s First Advertisement,” Southern Messenger, November 29, 1945. Eleanor Stuck, “Menger Hotel,” Handbook of Texas Online (accessed June 6, 2011). Inez Strickland Dalton, “The Menger Hotel,” 87.

[15] U.S. Federal Census, 1860 Population Schedules, Bexar County, Texas. See also list of early employees in “Mengers’ First Advertisement,” Southern Messenger, November 29, 1945.

[16] Terry G. Jordan, German Seed in Texas Soil: Immigrant Farmers in Nineteenth-Century Texas (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1966), esp. 193. “Founder of Historic Menger Hotel Came to This City from Germany in 1847”; Dalton, “The Menger Hotel,” 93-95; Woolford, “Menger Was Oasis,” San Antonio Light, February 22, 1959.

[17] “Founder of Historic Menger Hotel Came to This City from Germany in 1847”; Dalton, “The Menger Hotel,” 93-95; Woolford, “Menger Was Oasis,” San Antonio Light, February 22, 1959. “Day book, bar,” Menger Family Papers, UIW.

[18] Inez Strickland Dalton, “The Menger Hotel,” esp. 88-93. See for example San Antonio Express (San Antonio, TX), July 4 and July 7, 1868.

[19] Dalton, “The Menger Hotel,” 89-90. William Tate to General Herbert, August 30, 1862, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers, Texas. Menger (Wiliam A.) Letters, 1861-1863 and undated, CAH. See note below on Menger’s wartime trade.

[20] See for example Subject Files, Germans: Thielepape, W.C.A, ITC.

[21] Thomas T. Smith, The U.S. Army and the Texas Frontier Economy, 1845-1900 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1999), 41-42.

[22] “William A. Menger. San Antonio, Texas, Application for Special Pardon.”

[23] Ibid. Sugranes, “Memoirs of the Menger Family,” 6; San Antonio Express, May 18, 1869; San Antonio Express, May 18, 1869.

[24] Eleanor Stuck, “Menger Hotel,” and Inez Strickland Dalton, “The Menger Hotel.” See for example “Roosevelt is in Camp,” Dallas Morning News (Dallas, TX), May 16, 1898.

[25] Letters dated November 25 and November 27, 1872. Sidney Lanier, ed. Charles R. Anderson and Aubrey H. Starke, Centennial Edition of the Works of Sidney Lanier, 10 v., (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1945), v. 8, 279-283.

[26] Tim Draves, “Mary Menger (1816-1887),” Journal of the Life and Culture of San Antonio (accessed July 1, 2011); Inez Strickland Dalton, “The Menger Hotel,” 99-100.

[27] Eleanor Stuck, “Menger Hotel.” “When Ex-President Ulysses S. Grant Dined at the Menger,” Southern Messenger November 29, 1945. Grant’s visit is also described in the Galveston Weekly News (Galveston, TX), April 1, 1880.

[28] Ibid.; Freie Presse für Texas (San Antonio, TX), November 14 and December 8, 1881. Stephen Gould, The Alamo City Guide (New York: Macgowan & Slipper, 1882), 134; William Corner, San Antonio de Bejar: A Guide and History (San Antonio, TX: Bainbridge & Corner, 1890), 161, 164.

[29] Sam Woolford, “Menger Hotel Role in S.A. Growth Shown,” San Antonio Light (San Antonio, TX), February 1, 1959, 6-E; Michael C. Hennech and Tracé Etienne-Gray, “Brewing Industry.”

[30] Michael C. Hennech and Tracé Etienne-Gray, “Brewing Industry”; Sam Woolford, “Young Brewmaster Made Menger Beer Popular.” Tim Draves, “Mary Menger.”

[31] Ibid.; “Founder of Historic Menger Hotel in San Antonio,” Southern Messenger, November 29, 1945; ITC Subject Files, Germans—Menger, W.A.; U.S. IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918 (Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2005).

[32] By comparison, experienced brewmasters in the American Midwest earned approximately $27-$30 per month in 1857 (approximately $34-$38 per month in 1875 or $700-$900 per month in 2011$). See John Schneider, “Autobiography of John Schneider,”Beerhistory.com (accessed November 7, 2012).

[33] Michael C. Hennech and Tracé Etienne-Gray, “Brewing Industry”; Sam Woolford, “Young Brewmaster Made Menger Beer Popular”; “Brewery Dismantled,” Southern Messenger, November 29, 1945; Freie Presse für Texas, December 9, 1881.

[34] Microfilm Manuscript Schedules, Seventh Census, Bexar County, Texas. 1865 entries in Brewery Ledgers, Menger Family Papers, UIW; “William A. Menger. San Antonio, Texas, Application for Special Pardon.” Menger bought a sixteen-year-old boy, Jack, in November 1863 and sold him again in March 1864; see Elizabeth Craft, “Buried Stories of Cottonwood,” Hondo Anvil Herald (Hondo, TX), March 20, 2008, 13A. Photocopy courtesy of Ernesto Malacara, Menger Hotel.

[35] “William A. Menger. San Antonio, Texas, Application for Special Pardon,” 1865, Confederate Amnesty Papers, Texas. See for example “Confederate Papers Relating to Citizens or Business Firms, 1861-65,” Confederate Citizens File.

[36] San Antonio Ledger December 12, 1857. Shirley Lerner, “Growth & Change – The San Antonio Fire Department 1884 to 1900,” San Antonio Fire Department (accessed July 6, 2011); Tex Edmunds, “San Antonio’s Fire Departments,” reprinted from the Program of the 76th Annual State Firemen’s and Fire Marshals’ Convention June 10-12, 1952, San Antonio, San Antonio Fire Museum Society (accessed July 6, 2011).

[37] Tim Draves, “Mary Menger.”

[38] “Death of W.A. Menger,” San Antonio Express, March 21, 1871; Freie Presse für Texas, December 8, 1881; ITC Subject Files, Germans—Menger, W.A.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title William Achatius Menger
  • Coverage 1827-1871
  • Author
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date July 20, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 22, 2018