GEORGE DULLNIG

Mary L. Dullnig Short
George Dullnig (1846–1908).
Austrian George Dullnig was a well-known merchant in San Antonio and in 1886 discovered oil and gas on his Bexar County ranch. The find marked the beginning of a fledgling oil industry in Texas. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

GEORGE DULLNIG (1846–1908). George Dullnig, San Antonio merchant, was born in Austria on May 3, 1846, and came to Texas when he was only seven years old. His parents, Georg and Elisabeth (Stranner) Dullnig emigrated from Trebesing, a small village in the Austrian province of Carinthia (Kärnten), and arrived in New Orleans on December 25, 1853. With them were their five sons: Johann (John), Jacob, Andreas, Christian, and George. The family immediately traveled to Indianola and then on to San Antonio where in early January 1854 they purchased a lot on Elm Street northeast of the Alamo. The father, Georg, died within eleven months, and the sons began many years of work in central San Antonio and became prosperous merchants.  

George Dullnig started his successful mercantile career by selling fruit as a pushcart vendor.  He had a cobbler’s shop and then established a grocery store with brother Christian in 1865. George’s reputation as a solid business man in the Alamo City was long established by the 1880s. A quotation from the 1881–1882 Morrison & Fourmy’s General Directory of the City of San Antonio “Business Review” section states:  

 This gentleman needs no introduction at our hands.  He is favorably known throughout
the length and breadth of Western Texas as a leading wholesaler of groceries, who
has won for himself one of the largest trades and most extended business connection
by his strict attention to business and fair dealing.  Among our business men, none stand
higher, and his customers are found even beyond the southern boundary of our State.

Dullnig Building in San Antonio.
The Dullnig Building in downtown San Antonio. Courtesy Portal to Texas History and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

In 1884 George Dullnig built the Dullnig Building (a three-story dry goods store which included several innovations) located at the corner of Commerce Street and Losoya Street. The building was renovated in the early 1980s and housed the Riverwalk Vista Inn in the 2010s. In an article in the San Antonio Express on April 29, 1934, historian Fred Mosebach described it as “one of the handsomest buildings in San Antonio, with a front of red pressed brick and limestone trimmings…with two imposing towers.”  His business included groceries as well as fine dry goods such as ready-to-wear and a millinery shop. The building was known for having one of the first elevators in the city, for being heated by steam heat generated at a distance, and for “George Dullnig’s Arctic Soda Fountain” which opened in June 1894.  The elevator and his nearby coffee roasting plant on Losoya Street were run by hydraulic pressure from a 100-foot-tall water tower, also near the store. One floor was rented to a business school, and in 1892 he founded the Fifth National Bank located on the first floor.    

Dullnig’s success in the city afforded him the opportunity to purchase a 1,000-acre ranch about six miles southeast of San Antonio. He also owned several hundred horses and invested in an attempt to develop a railroad line connecting the town of Stockdale to San Antonio. He sold his horses to cover his investment in the railroad after it became involved in litigation and was eventually sold to Southern Pacific. After these endeavors, Dullnig turned to farming which he was familiar with from his family roots in Austria. 

In 1886 while drilling for water for his fruit trees, corn, and cattle, he found oil (fifteen years before another Austrian, Anthony F. Lucas, drilled the famous Spindletop well near Beaumont). After the first three attempts brought in oil, Dullnig tried a fourth well which produced natural gas. He continued drilling about ten wells altogether and finally reached sulfur water. Neither the oil nor the sulfur water was very marketable at that time and in the quantities his land produced, but Dullnig was able to sell the sulfur or chalybeate water to the wealthy for health purposes. He used the natural gas to light his eighteen-room country house which he later leased for use as a health resort, known as Dullnig Wells. The oil was sold in small amounts to individuals, businesses, and a local street car company. Some was shipped by rail to Mexican refineries. The only evidence of the original wells is a granite monument at the intersection of S.E. Military Highway and Fairlawn Road. It was placed there by the San Antonio Oil Industry in 1956.

In his personal life, George Dullnig married Frances Werner from Prussia in 1865 and lived at 124 Nolan Street. They had eighteen children in twenty-three years; fourteen children lived to adulthood. George died on December 19, 1908, in the Santa Rosa Infirmary in San Antonio after an operation for appendicitis. He was buried in the Dullnig Cemetery in San Antonio.

The other Dullnig brothers were also successful merchants in San Antonio. Johann (John) (1832–1924) settled on the west side of Military Plaza in 1873 and started a small grocery business which he conducted for fifty years. Jacob Dullnig (1834–1897) was already listed as a merchant in the 1870 census, only sixteen years after arriving in Texas, and was listed several times in the General Directory of San Antonio between 1879 and 1891 as a merchant selling dry goods, groceries, boots, shoes, feed, provisions, and country produce. Not much is known about Andreas (Andrew) Dullnig (1836–1892), though he is listed as an employee in George Dullnig’s dry goods store and was mentioned as a prominent merchant in an obituary for a family member. Christian Dullnig (1841–1922), according to an article by Fred Mosebach in the San Antonio Express on February 24, 1936, had a grocery store on the corner of Elm and Burnet streets. Mosebach has previously commented on the Dullnig business legacy in the San Antonio Express on April 29, 1934:

The Dullnig name was quite prominent in local mercantile circles in those days, for on Military Plaza near the old Bat Cave, another brother, Jacob Dullnig conducted a large store, and still another brother, John Dullnig, was also engaged in the grocery and general merchandise business.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Church Records, St. John’s Lutheran Church, San Antonio, Texas. Christopher A. and Marina Dullnig, “The Dullnig Chronicle” (College Park, Maryland, 1993). Sigrid Dullnig Glanznig, Correspondence, Zlatting 23, 9852 Trebesing, Austria. Thelma Kirchoff Herschap (1916–1985), Interviews and correspondence, Orange Grove, Texas. John M. Long and Clarence F. Theis, “The Birth of an Industry: Dullnig Field 1886,” Bulletin of South Texas Geological Society, San Antonio, Texas, March 18, 1986. Doris Davis Rische (1926–2001), Interview and correspondence, Corpus Christi, Texas. San Antonio Express, February 22, 1876; July 11, 1897; December 21, 1908; April 29, 1934; February 24, 1936. San Antonio Express-News, May 5, 2015.

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Handbook of Texas Online, Mary L. Dullnig Short , "GEORGE DULLNIG ," accessed November 18, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fdull.

Uploaded on October 23, 2018. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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