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Biography of Christian Frederick Gottlieb Meyer
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To those familiar with the history of Christian Frederick Gottlieb Meyer it would seem trite to say that he arose from an obscure position to rank among the prominent merchants of the country, but is only just to say in a history that will descend to future generations that he left a record which any man might be proud to possess. Beginning at the very bottom round of the business ladder, he steadily climbed upward until his record is today a valuable asset in contemporaneous history. He was the founder of the Meyer Brothers Drug Company, the most important wholesale drug establishment in the United States. His business record was such as any man might be proud to possess, for it was characterized by strict, unswerving industry and integrity, and by the faithful fulfillment of every obligation. He thus enjoyed in unusual measure the admiration of the general public and the respect and esteem of his contemporaries and associates. He stood prominent among the citizens who in the utilization of the excellent business opportunities offered by the new world attained distinction and success.
His birth occurred in the province of Westphalia, Prussia, where in the village of Haldem the estate of his ancestors has been known almost from times immemorial as Meyer von der Ilwede. These manor estates are required to remain intact and descend to the eldest son, even if the rest of the children receive little or nothing as a heritage. The natal day of Frederick Meyer, for by that name he has always been known, was December 9, 1830, and when he was to be christened at the church, five miles distant, a four-in-hand gala turnout was brought into requisition. He was only three years of age at the time of his father’s death and was left an orphan by the demise of his mother when he was sixteen years of age. It was in the following year that he came to America, as did many of his fellow countrymen who were attracted by the story of the better wages paid in the new world and of the opportunities for rapid business advancement.
In company with his brother William Mr. Meyer sailed from Bremen on the sailing vessel Swanton, Captain Duncan commanding, on the 22d of September, 1847, and arrived at New Orleans on the 14th of November, after a long and tedious voyage of seven and a half weeks. The brothers proceeded up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to Cincinnati and started by canal boat for Fort Wayne, Indiana, but the river freezing over, they could not proceed far on their journey in that way and were forced to walk the remaining distance over a bad country road covered by mud and snow. Their choice of destination was influenced by the fact that they had a sister living about eighteen miles south of Fort Wayne. They traveled on and when night overtook them on the second day a neighbor of their sister escorted the brothers through the forest with a torchlight of hickory bark. They reached their destination on the evening of December 3, 1847, and for about two months assisted their brother-in-law and his grown sons in clearing away the forest.
A momentous day in the history of Frederick Meyer was the 14th of February, 1848, for on that day he accompanied his brother-in-law to Fort Wayne and after a day or two determined to remain there. His advent into business life in that city was a most unpretentious one. He made arrangements to live with a dry goods merchant by the name of Hill and was to do some general work as a recompense for his board and the opportunity of attending school. He had thus pursued his education for ten consecutive weeks when his teacher became ill. In that time, however, be had made marvelous progress in acquiring a knowledge of the English language and had nearly finished the third reader. It is said that after he had been in Fort Wayne for a year he could speak English with the fluency of a native born American. The undaunted spirit of energy and enterprise which has always characterized him was immediately manifest when he could no longer attend school in his effort to secure other occupation.
From his early boyhood it was his ambition to become a druggist and he now secured a position in a drug store as an apprentice in May, 1848, when in his eighteenth year. It is said there are two indispensable elements to success: an objective one-the opportunity; and the subjective one-the energy to improve the opportunity. The opportunity came to Mr. Meyer and it was found that he had the requisite qualities to utilize it. When the Asiatic cholera was epidemic in this country in 1849, those who were older and more experienced in the profession in the store in which he was employed either fled from their posts of duty or were stricken with the dreadful disease, his principal being among the latter, and following the death of his employer it was necessary that Mr. Meyer take charge of the business. Although merchandising was brought to a standstill in every other line, the drug trade flourished, and Mr. Meyer was kept busy night and day filling prescriptions and dealing out drugs, his meals even being brought to him at the store. He showed that he had in him the qualities necessary to meet the situation and his fidelity, ready adaptability and trustworthiness soon gained him promotion and in less than two weeks he was head clerk of the establishment. In this connection he made occasional trips to Cincinnati to purchase goods, and in August, 1852, he was approached by another druggist in Fort Wayne with an offer to become his partner, and thus he associated himself with Watson Wall under the firm name of Wall & Meyer. The next month he went to New York city to purchase an additional stock of goods. A trip to the metropolis was far different at that time than at present, when in a few hours one crosses the country in a Pullman palace car. He then traveled by canal to Toledo, by lake to Buffalo, by rail to Albany and thence down the Hudson river to New York, and on the return trip he crossed the Alleghanies partly by rail and partly by stage. The capital of the new firm was quite limited. Mr. Wall had only been in business a short time and had been assisted by a few men of wealth at Fort Wayne, one of whom was the Hon. Hugh McCulloch, who was then president of the State Bank of Indiana and subsequently comptroller of currency of the United States and secretary of the treasury. Mr. Meyer had managed to save four hundred and twenty dollars in cash and he borrowed eighty dollars from a friend, so that he had a capital of five hundred dollars to invest, while Mr. Wall’s assets, after deducting liabilities, were about six hundred and twenty dollars. The partnership was continued for five years, on the expiration of which period Mr. Meyer purchased the interest of Mr. Wall, paying him ten or eleven thousand dollars-such had been the rapid growth and success of the business. Not long after Mr. Meyer gave his brother, J. F. W. Meyer, an interest in the house and the firm style of Meyer & Brother was assumed.
Mr. Meyer had been in business on his own account about two years when, in 1854, he wedded Miss Francisca Schmidt, who had come to America a year or two previous from the vicinity of Strassburg, Germany, and had taken up her abode at Fort Wayne. Soon after their marriage Mr. Meyer purchased nine acres of land a short distance from the corporation limits of the city and built thereon a residence and stables that he might enjoy country life. He has always been interested in the production of flowers and at his country home he built greenhouses and engaged in gardening, floriculture and horticulture. He had hotbeds for market gardening and soon developed a large nursery. His business in that line grew rapidly and it is a matter of history that a large majority of the evergreen and ornamental trees at or near Fort Wayne that have grown to great size came from “Glendale,” Mr. Meyer’s country home. He has always been a lover of flowers and is said to have imported the first specimen of Begonia Rex. He became so deeply interested in floriculture and horticulture that he frequently wrote for the magazines of the day upon these subjects.
A man of resourceful business ability Mr. Meyer extended his efforts into other lines and undertook no business interest in which he did not reach success. In those days a German paper was published at Fort Wayne, but Mr. Meyer did not consider it creditable to the city or his nationality and so purchased the paper and assumed the editorship. He raised it to a high standard of journalism and later presented it to one whom he regarded qualified to edit it satisfactorily and it is still in existence. All this time he continued in the drug business, in which he met with excellent success, save that in 1863 the store was almost entirely destroyed by fire and the loss above the insurance amounted to fifteen thousand dollars. Before the flames had been extinguished, however, Mr. Meyer had leased other premises and the next day started for New York to buy a complete stock of drugs and druggists’ sundries and in a short period the business was in good running condition and the trade constantly increased until theirs became the largest retail drug house in the state of Indiana. They also developed an extensive jobbing business, Mr. Meyer often making trips to surrounding towns on horseback or by carriage to look after his trade.
His success and ambition prompted him to reach out to other fields and believing that he might profit by the opportunities of larger cities than Fort Wayne, he considered both Chicago and St. Louis as a place of location and determined upon the latter. In August, 1865, therefore, he opened a branch house in St. Louis, which at that time contained about two hundred thousand inhabitants and had twelve wholesale drug houses. The period following the Civil war was one of depression in all lines of trade. The inflated war prices sank daily, but the safe, conservative business methods upon which it was founded and the unassailable integrity of the house enabled the firm gradually to build up a trade until the St. Louis house far outranked the original establishment at Fort Wayne. Mr. Meyer removed to St. Louis to take charge here and at the same time continued the active supervision of the Fort Wayne store. The business in this city developed until it exceeded in volume and importance that of all other drug houses of St. Louis and in fact is the most important establishment of this character in the west. All this, however, meant close and unremitting effort. The company always adhered to high standards, endeavoring to reach an ideal business in the character of its service to the public, in the quality. of goods handled and in its personnel as well. Mr. Meyer would never deviate from the high standard which he set up and in the end undoubtedly it proved one of the elements of his splendid business success. His name was long an honored one on commercial paper and he was well known in financial circles. He was a director of three different banks, becoming thus associated with the State Bank of Indiana before he was thirty years of age, while two banks of St. Louis made him a member of their directorate.
To Mr. and Mrs. Meyer were born nine children, seven sons and two daughters, but one died in infancy, another at the age of twenty-one, a third at the age of twenty-eight years and the fourth during 1920. There still survive four sons and a daughter, and the four sons are in the establishment of Meyer Brothers Drug Company, Carl F. G. Meyer being president of the company; O. P. Meyer, vice president; G. J. Meyer, assistant secretary; and A. C. Meyer, a director.
Mr. and Mrs. Meyer held membership in the German Lutheran church and contributed in large measure to its development and growth. During his last years Mr. Meyer was in ill health and they traveled quite extensively for recuperation as well as recreation. His death occurred July 12, 1905, at Homburg-vor-der-Hoehe, Germany, and his remains were brought back to St. Louis on the 2d of August, being interred in the German Evangelical Lutheran cemetery here. It was fitting that in the evening of his days he should enjoy well merited rest, for his life through many years was one of intense activity and enterprise. Although he had passed the Psalmist’s span of threescore years and ten, his mental vigor was unimpaired and he took an active interest in the living issues and events of the day. Surrounded at his home by a circle of friends who appreciated his true worth and admired and esteemed by the citizens of the community, his name will be honored for many generations as that of one of the most enterprising of the early merchants of St. Louis-a man who acted well his part and who lived a worthy and honorable life.
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