TOEPPERWEIN, ADOLPH [AD]

Rev. by Laurie E. Jasinski
Adolph Toepperwein (1869–1962).
Famed exhibition shootist Adolph Toepperwein demonstrated his feats of marksmanship as a sales representative for the Winchester Repeating Arms Company from 1901 to 1951. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

TOEPPERWEIN, ADOLPH [AD] (1869–1962). Adolph “Ad” Toepperwein, noted exhibition marksman, was born in Boerne, Texas, on October 17, 1869. He was the son of German immigrants Emil Albrecht Ferdinand Toepperwein and Johanna (Bergmann) Toepperwein. Soon after, the family moved to Leon Springs in Bexar County, where Ferdinand Toepperwein was a well-known gunsmith. When Adolph was thirteen his father died, and the boy went to San Antonio and first worked in a crockery shop and then as a cartoonist for the San Antonio Express. After seeing the famed sharpshooter William Frank “Doc” Carter in an exhibition of marksmanship, Toepperwein began perfecting his own shooting talents. In 1889 he quit his newspaper job, and, in search of a vaudeville job, he went to New York with San Antonio theater manager George Walker. For two years Toepperwein performed his shooting feats at minstrel shows before accepting a job with Orrin Brothers Circus. He toured with the show for eight years and traveled across the United States and in Mexico.

Adolph [Ad] and Elizabeth [Plinky] Toepperwein.
Ad Toepperwein and his wife Elizabeth (nicknamed Plinky) made a formidable team of exhibition marksmen and performed shows across the United States. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Promotional flyer.
Promotional flyer for the "Wonderful Topperweins" (note the Americanized spelling of their name). Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

By 1900 Adolph Toepperwein was apparently back in San Antonio and was listed on the census as a “drummer” (or salesman). In 1901 he began his fifty-year association with the Winchester Repeating Arms Company as an exhibition publicity agent and sales representative. While visiting New Haven, Connecticut, in 1902, he met Elizabeth Servaty (see TOEPPERWEIN, ELIZABETH S.), an employee at the Winchester plant. They married in 1903, and, even though she had never fired a gun in her life, she took an interest in her husband’s marksmanship and learned the art of shooting. Within two years the Toepperweins were traveling as a team, billed as "The Famous Topperweins" (their name Americanized). “Plinky,” as she was called, became an outstanding woman sharpshooter, representing American Powder Mills. They traveled throughout the world. Their only child, Lawrence Clark, was born in 1904, and he stayed with his paternal grandmother and aunt during his parents’ tours. He later worked as a reporter and cartoonist for the San Antonio Express before his death in 1940.

Ad Toepperwein and the world record.
Ad Toepperwein sits atop a mountain of wood blocks after his amazing marksman display in San Antonio. During a ten-day period in December 1907, he fired at a total of 72,500 wood blocks and missed only 9. The San Antonio Express heralded the demonstration as the "greatest shooting exhibition ever given." Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Ad Toepperwein's first official record was made at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. In 1906, during a three-day exhibition, he made 19,999 hits out of 20,000 hand-thrown wood blocks. It was in San Antonio during a ten-day period from December 13 to December 22, 1907, where Toepperwein made his famous world record and performed what the San Antonio Daily Express described as “the greatest shooting exhibition ever given.” Using three 1903 model Winchester .22 automatics, he fired at a total of 72,500 wood blocks and missed only 9 during sixty-eight and one-half hours of target shooting. He used up all of the ammunition for sale in the city. He attracted both rural and town dwellers to exhibits wherever Winchester guns were sold. He showcased his shooting prowess with rifles, shotguns, and pistols at a variety of targets. His demonstrations also included the creation of his own artistic renderings through “shoot outs”—employing bullet holes to draw pictures of Indians, cowboys, ducks, and other subjects. During World War II the Toepperweins toured military installations. Their last tour together occurred in 1943. Plinky Toepperwein died in 1945.

Ad Toepperwein and his bullet hole art.
Ad Toepperwein shows an example of his bullet hole art. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Ad Toepperwein toured until his retirement in 1951.  He remained an advisor for Winchester. He conducted a shooting camp and gave free lessons in Leon Springs, but he increasingly suffered from failing hearing and eyesight. Ad Toepperwein died at Santa Rosa Medical Center in San Antonio on March 4, 1962, and was buried beside his wife in Mission Burial Park. His gravestone includes the quote, “Keep Your Powder Dry.” Since 1963 the San Antonio Gun Club has hosted the Toepperwein Memorial Skeet Shoot in the couple’s honor, and Adolph Toepperwein was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1966. A Toepperwein museum was opened in May 1973 on the Lone Star Brewery grounds in San Antonio to house some of the memorabilia of the team's long years of marksmanship. In late 1998 the Toepperwein Gallery was moved with the Buckhorn Collection to the new site of the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum located downtown. Ad Toepperwein was inducted into the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame in 1999. A Texas Historical Marker was erected in his honor in Boerne in 2013.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

“Adolph Toepperwein,” Find A Grave Memorial (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/18138/adolph-toepperwein), accessed February 18, 2018. Austin American-Statesman, December 27, 1969. Charles Merritt Barnes, Combats and Conquests of Immortal Heroes (San Antonio: Guessaz and Ferlet, 1910). Tim Price, Shooting for the Record: Adolph Toepperwein, Tom Frye, and Sharpshooting’s Forgotten Controversy (Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 2016). San Antonio Daily Express, August 5, 1894, May 26, 1901, December 22, 1907. San Antonio Express, January 28, 1945. San Antonio Express-News, June 10, 2015. “THE TOEPP GUNS OF ALL TIMES (THE SHOOTING TOEPPERWEINS),” Friends of PLANTAnswers, PLANTanswers.com (http://www.plantanswers.com/toepperwein.htm), accessed February 18, 2018. Norman Wiltsey, "Riflemen in Retrospect," Frontier Times, August-September 1964. 

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Rev. by Laurie E. Jasinski, "TOEPPERWEIN, ADOLPH [AD]," accessed September 24, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fto09.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on February 20, 2018. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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