A Woman to Know: Emma Koehler

Everyone has been drinking booze for years. — Emma Koehler

Everyone has been drinking booze for years. — Emma Koehler

(image via Wikimedia Commons)

When her high-powered, high-society, always-philandering husband Otto suddenly died in 1916, Emma Koehler had to pick up the pieces. Otto had established Texas’s largest brewery, Pearl Beer Brewing in San Antonio. But upcoming Prohibition legislation threatened its survival.

So Emma devised a plan: she and her employees would run a front business, disguised as a laundry and dry cleaning operation complete with automobile repair. They converted much of the brewery machinery to make ice cream and a near-beer drink called “La Perla.” Behind the scenes, Emma and her crew were still brewing and distributing Pearl beer throughout the Lone Star State.

While other breweries closed their doors, Emma managed to keep up profits and diversify her business. Throughout all of Prohibition, she never laid off a single employee. When the legislation lifted in 1933, Emma turned over the business to her nephew, after 26 years as CEO. Even in retirement, she advised on deals and weighed in on major company decisions.

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