The History of the First Commercial Brewery in Texas

One of four variations of a handbill marketing the hotel with Mrs. W.A. Menger listed as proprietress.

Western Brewery, the oldest commercial brewery in Texas, was owned and operated by a woman in the late 1800s, and evidence of her time as the proprietress has recently been made available for purchase. The Menger Hotel Papers Project reveals evidence of Mary Menger as the first woman to own and operate a commercial brewery in Texas through her business records that include brewing supply orders, keg return lists, marketing handbills, tax records, and more. The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin is the nation’s leading research center for historical study and has an opportunity to purchase The Menger Hotel Papers and make them available to the public for further research through public donations. From the donation page, “the Menger Hotel Papers (1855-1893) offer a rare glimpse into the early operations of a major nineteenth-century business owned and operated by a woman on the Texas frontier — and still in business to this day. Help us preserve Mrs. Menger’s records with a gift to the Menger Hotel Papers Project.”

Explore more about the history of Western Brewery and Mary Menger, who became the most important Texas business women of the nineteenth century, and make a gift today to help preserve this historical evidence for the education of future generations.

From the HornRaiser Donation Site:

Arriving in San Antonio in 1846, with no family and no job, Mary started a boarding house. In 1848, she married a local butcher who died a short time later. She continued to run the boarding house as a single female entrepreneur. Three years later, she married her handyman and boarder, W.A. Menger, who was also a cooper. In 1855 they built the first commercial brewery in Texas, the Western Brewery, hiring another German immigrant named Karl Degen as their brewmaster. Mary’s first boarding house was closed and a new one was built on the Alamo Plaza using profits from beer sales. Opening in 1859, the Menger Hotel is the longest continuously operating hotel West of the Mississippi River.

When Mary’s husband died in 1871, he left his wife to raise their three children and operate the famed hotel and brewery at the heart of the San Antonio community. Mary’s business acumen and Degen’s brewing skills soon grew the Western Brewery into the largest commercial brewery in Texas before Mary sold it to Degen in 1878. As for the hotel, which served as a hub for society, a hospital, and a bank in early Texas, William and Mary created a modern first-class hotel experience offering gourmet cuisine, attractive furnishings, and an attentive hospitality staff. These premium accommodations significantly contributed to the commercial life of nineteenth-century Texas. In 1881, Mary sold the hotel to her contractor, John Hermann Kampmann.

About the Menger Hotel Papers (1855 – 1893)

Selection of commercial papers from the Menger Hotel Papers. The archive includes a trove of more than 250 different letterheads and billheads. 

The collection contains about 2,500 items, including correspondence, invoices, and other documents. It sheds light on various aspects of nineteenth-century Texas history, such as the hotel’s daily operations, Texas’ alcohol industry, and the social, cultural, and business life in early San Antonio, as well as Mary Menger’s influence, William’s death, and the hotel’s final days under the Menger family ownership. The papers are also crucial for understanding Texas commerce in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, including during the Civil War, while highlighting the roles played by women, underrepresented groups, and recent immigrants to Texas. It is essential to preserve historical records like these and make them accessible to the public for educational purposes, research, and enjoyment.

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