Margaretha Gerhardt Burkhardt, 1848-1925

Margaretha Gerhardt Burkhardt was not yet 35 when she took over the family brewery. Over her 40 years with the brewery business, she expanded it and made it more productive and profitable than ever before.

Margaretha Gerhardt was born in Germany and emigrated to America in 1870. Wilhelm Burkhardt, who would become her husband, had been born in Germany also. He was trained in brewing before he emigrated to America in 1868. Initially, he settled in Cleveland, working as a brew master. When he settled in Akron, he became part owner of the Wolf Ledge Brewery, located in the city’s German community. In 1874 Wilhelm Burkhardt and Margaretha Gerhardt married. They had two children, William and Gustav.

Five years later, the Burkhardts faced a business disaster. The successful Wolf Ledge Brewery, a wooden brew house, burned to the ground. Burkhardt’s partner wanted no more of the brewery business. Burkhardt bought his partner out and rebuilt the brewery.

Two years later, Wilhelm Burkhardt died of blood poisoning. He was only 32 years old and his wife Margaretha had to make a decision. Should she sell the business or keep it and run it? She had two young sons and there were few – if any women in the Akron area – running a brewery.

Burkhardt opted to keep the business. In fact, she proved to be a woman of tremendous business acumen. For more than 40 years, Burkhardt was the driving force behind Burkhardt’s Brewery in Akron. She faced many challenges, one of which was the disastrous 1890 tornado that damaged the brewery. (She refused charity and instead donated money to help others rebuild their homes.)

By 1899, Burkhardt had brought both her sons into the family business. With the turn of the century, she started an expansion policy that increased production 100 fold, modernized the plant, improved and enlarged the bottling works and diversified the business into real estate and coal.

Margaretha retired as president of Burkhardt’s in 1911 but she retained her controlling stock and remained a director of – and a key force in — the business until her death in 1925.

Burkhardt lived to see prohibition introduced into the state in 1918. In 1919, Burkhardt had to shift to soft drink production and for a time produced Hires Root Beer. Its soft drink business was never successful but the company was sufficiently diversified that it survived prohibition.

Photo courtesy of theĀ Beacon Journal.

–Kathleen L. Endres