Meyer Brothers Company

Digger Odell Publications 2007


The man who enters upon a purely mercantile career, with no guide but his own sagacity, no support but the promptings of ambition and a steadfast determination to excel, and who, at length, crowns his life-work by the fullest realization of all his conceptions, adding an illustrious name to an honorable calling and enriching his country by the fruits of his genius, amply deserves, and will surely receive, the admiration and grateful remembrance of his fellow-men. Such a man is C. F. G. Meyer, of Saint Louis, a brief account of whose instructive life we take pleasure in placing before our readers. It has always been the boast of America that those who have been most instrumental in developing and promoting her material interests were descended from no lofty names or titled ancestry, and in Mr. Meyer another eminent character has been enrolled on our list of self-made men.

Christian Frederick Gottlieb Meyer, the subject of these remarks, who is a leading representative wholesale druggist of the United States, was born sixty years ago, on the 9th day of December, 1830, at Haldem, a large village of Westphalia, in the kingdom of Prussia.

He was the youngest of three children born of the second marriage of his father, the others being his brother, John Frederick William, who was the eldest, and his sister, Marie Margaretta Engel.

His father was John Henry Meyer, who was married to his mother, Marie Louise Holt, in the year 1823. This was a happy union, lasting until the death of his father, which occurred June 1st, 1834, at the age of 54 years and 7,.months. By occupation his father was a farmer and shepherd, and he was obliged to exercise the utmost frugality and industry to maintain the family. After his death his widow married Anton Busse, of Oppenwede, in 1838, and the same year the family removed from Haldem to the village of Stemshorn, in Hanover, where they rented the shepherd's field and house known as "Wtechmann's Hof."

In 1838 his brother-in-law, Herman Gehrke, Emmigrated to America settled in Adams county: Indiana, about eight miles south of Fort Wayne, and while Frederick had long desires follow him, he did not find it expedient to do so until nine years later.

On the 22d of September, 1847, accompanies his brother William, sailed from Bremen the United States. entire wealth, at this time consisted of twelve Prussian dollars, which realized from the sale a few sheep that he raised, but as this was sufficient to defray expenses of the trip, was obliged to rely on generosity of his brother, William for the balance of the money. William, who had been a shepherd several years, had accumulated about hundred dollars, which he divided his brother Frederick to cover the traveling expenses. The large three-masted sailing ship, which they boarded Bremen, was called the "Swanton," commanded by Captain Duncan. Besides crew the ship carried 350 passengers mostly emigrants, bound direct for New Orleans. Owing to the roughness of the ocean occasioned by several heavy storms which were encountered, Frederick was sea sickthe entire way, and this was aggravated: by the poor quality of the food supplied to the passengers.

In passing through the Channel they came in sight of the coast of England, later on they saw the Madeira and central smaller islands.. This experience was interesting to young Meyer, who had never been on the sea before. After a long age of fifty five days the "Swanton" led her passengers at New Orleans on 17th of November, 1847. Without delay Frederick and William Meyer set to reach their brother-in-law, in Indiana. They took passage a steamboat plying between New Orleans and the Ohio river towns, and soon journeying up the Mississippi. The sugar plantations, and, further north, cotton fields, made a wonderful impression on the Europeans. In about fourteen days they landed safely at Cincinnati, where they had a few old acquainaces from Germany.

During this period no railways were in operation in any of the western states, they had to travel the balance of the journey by canal. This route led there to a small town near Piqua, Ohio, from there they walked to their destination, aboutt forty-five miles away. Their money, by this time, had given out entirely, but were kindly assisted by a small loan a Mr. Wehmayer, one of their traveling companions.

The journey overland on foot was tiressome and tedious, as the path led through forests, with heavy underbrush, the .land being covered with snow and partial frozen. They traveled all night through this wilderness, and could only their way by the aid of torches composed of dry bark and twigs picked the wayside, but at last they reached the end of their long journey almost exhausted.

Up to this point the young Meyer had no definite aims, but were willing to take advantage of whatever opportunities presented themselves. After several days of rest they both accepted employment at felling trees and clearing timber. This was work to which Meyer was accustomed, but they soon made considerable headway, and both took such pleasure in seeing the heavy timber fall to the ground. These trees they cut to suitable lengths to be split into rails, and such pieces as were of no purpose were piled up and given to the flames. They also assisted in erecting some log houses, which were the very kind of buildings in use in that part of the country.

By the 14th of February, 1848, C. F. G. and his brother-in-law started for Fort Wayne, where the former obtained a meeting with the family of Mr. John 1, an American gentleman. His daily duties were to take care of a family;cut the wood (which was the only fuel known), and to do general work about the premises. In consideration of these services he obtained free lodging and his washing and the liberty of attending school during a portion of the day. English was the only language taught, and the teacher, Mr. McJunken, was a very strict man. The first efforts of young Meyer were devoted to mastering the spelling-book, after which he took up reading, writing and arithmetic. Mr. McJunken was well pleased with the diligence of his pupil, and would often remark when he had left the school: "Fred, you were the best scholar I ever had."

One day C. F. G. Meyer strolled to the canal at Fort Wayne to see his brother William, who had secured a position as driver of a canal boat. While standing there conversing with his brother he was approached by a gentleman, Mr. Joseph P. Edsall, who said: "See here, Bub, do you want a job?" Having replied in the affirmative, Mr Meyer was asked to "Come this way" and was taken to the drug store of Mr. Hugh B. Reed, where Mr. Edsall introduced him, remarking: "Here, Reed, is a boy who wants something to do." Mr. Meyer was at once put to work to start the fire. After doing this he asked to be excused until he could go to Mr. Hill, his former employer, and appraise him of the change that was contemplated. and thus on the 10th day of May, 1848, he first became connected with the drug business.

This sudden change in Mr. Met'er's career was quite surprising to him, and be, of course, could not forsee the consequences. He looked upon it only as a necessary step in acquiring some knowledge of business affairs, but he had no idea :hat it was destined to be his permanent galling, and neither were his duties such as to give him that impression. Cutting wood, making fires, washing oottles and work of that kind made up he daily routine, and occasionally the pleasant occupation was indulged in of pulverizing gum aloes, euphorbium, cantharides and similar articles. That the position was not considered a desirable one was manifest from the remarks of the young people whom he had learned to know. He was frequently encouraged by such expressions as: "Well, you will certainly be with Mr. Reed but a short time. I had a week's trial with him myself." After an experience of about six weeks Mr. Meyer imagined that he could ;endure it no longer, and feeling that he would never become qualified as a druggist he sought Mr. Edsall, who was a dealer in dry goods next to Mr. Reed's drug store, asking him whether he could not accommodate him with work in his establishment. Mr. Edsall was willing to to so, but insisted on speaking to Mr. Reed on the subject first, which he did. thereupon Mr. Reed took Mr. Meyer into his room and endeavored to persuade him to remain, which Mr. Meyer finally concluded to do, after being implored by his associates to stay. Then Mr. Reed raised his salary to fifteen dollars per month and promised, in addition, to relieve him of the minor work which he had heretofore done. This promise was soon carried out. Mr. Meyer was now about eighteen years old, and his principal expenses were for board, lodging and washing, which he contrived to obtain for six dollars per month. The balance of his wages, he prudently saved, and in the course of a few years it formed the nucleus of important accumulations. In his new enterprise he made satisfactory progress, and in a very short time was initiated into the mysteries of compounding prescriptions. At this period he developed a desire to learn the French language and paid considerable attention to it, being assisted by a French gentleman of the name of Jacques Pierre. He also commenced to mingle with American society and gradually became better acquainted with the manner of waiting on the patrons of the house. He remained with Mr. Reed until the summer of 1852, a little over four years, becoming finally the chief clerk in the establishment.

When he retired from the service of Mr. Reed it was for the purpose of becoming a proprietor himself, and in the month of August, 1852, he formed a partnership with Mr. Watson Wall, who, for several years previously had been established in the retail drug business at Fort Wayne. The new firm was known as Wall & Meyer. Almost immediately after this Mr. Meyer took a business trip to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York to snake some necessary purchases of goods. The route was rather a circuitous one, being first by canal packet from Fort Wayne to Toledo, and thence by lake steamer to Buffalo, and from this point by railroad to New York. His business then led him to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The railroad to the latter city had not been completed and a portion of the distance had to be made by stage, and in crossing the Alleghenies the passengers were obliged to traverse the most rugged places on foot.

The business of Wall & Meyer was very small, as the total investment o f each partner was only $420.00, but it improved steadily and rapidly, so that at the end of five years, when Mr. Wall retired, his interest was found to be worth $10,000, besides which Mr. Meyer paid him a bonus of $2,000 for good-will. We have related thus minutely the history of Mr. Meyer, to show the formidable nature of the obstacles with which he had to contend in the beginning and the practical judgment and consummate skill which he (so young) displayed in overcoming them. Ten years prior to this date he landed on our shores penniless, almost friendless, and with no knowledge whatever of the English language, yet in that brief period he surmounted every difficulty and had an investment in business of at least $15,000.

Shortly after the withdrawal of Mr. Wall, in 1857, Mr. Meyer admitted his brother William as a partner. The latter also had accumulated some means and a consolidation of their resources gave a fresh impetus to the business. The new firm of Meyer & Brother soon became known throughout Indiana and the neighboring states, while the name of C. F. G. Meyer was universally recognized as a synonym for energy, sagacity and probity.

An event transpired about this time which had an important bearing on his future life, in strengthening him in his onward flights and encouraging him through every period of difficulty and danger. We allude to his marriage in July, 1854, to Miss Francisco Schmidt, at Fort Wayne. This estimable lady, the life-long companion and counselor of the great merchant, is noted and honored among her acquaintances for her superior qualities of head and heart, her untiring devotion and unswerving loyalty to the interests of her husband and family, and a large measure of the success with which Mr. Meyer has been blessed may be traced directly to the salutary influence that she has exerted.

Under the masterly guidance of Mr. C. F. G. Meyer, the combined exertions of the two brothers soon brought the business to a high degree of prosperity, and they enlarged the scope of their work by branching out as wholesale dealers, in which they were so successful that they decided to start another store at St. Louis. Mo., to afford an outlet for their surplus means. Accordingly, just after the war ended, in the year 1865, Mr. Meyer removed to St. Louis and founded the house of Meyer Bros. & Co., of which the present business of Meyer Brothers' Drug Co., in that city and elsewhere, is the outgrowth. Although the venture was not on a pretentious scale, it compared favorably with the other jobbing houses of the day and soon obtained general recognition as one of the leading and most reliable establishments in the West. In all his enterprises Mr. Meyer has always aimed to reach the first rank and lie now applied himself with assiduity and almost super human energy to building up the business at St. Louis. It was not long before he made himself felt as a competitor for the patronage of the Western and Southern druggists, and while some of his rivals willingly conceded the ability and accomplishments of their new adversary, others affected indifference and some freely predicted his downfall. But Mr. Meyer was not a man to be diverted from his purpose by idle talk.

His foresight, fair dealings and knowledge of the business continued to attract widespread attention, and from year to year he has had the satisfaction of seeing his establishment grow in size and importance and steadily approaching in reputation and influence the most popular houses in the country. During this period the demands upon his time and resources were so great as to confine him at his desk late every night, and it was a common thing for him to be seen in the midst of his men directing the work, and even laying aside his pen to assist in their manual labors. It was in this manner that he brought about the results of to-day. Mr. Meyer soon placed his St. Louis house on a permanent and paying basis, and wishing to still further extend the business he established another branch at Kansas City, Mo., in 1879, and still another at Dallas, Texas, in 1887. The office in New York City was started in 1866. Matters were in this prosperous condition when, on the 1st of January, 1889, the memorable fire occurred which swept away the gigantic business of Richardson Drug Co. at St. Louis, and an arrangement was immediately effected by which Mr. Meyer secured for his house the bulk of trade of his late rival, who now retired from the field. This sudden increase in business necessitated a more perfect system to control it, and in March, 1889, the various houses and interests of Meyer Bros. & Co. were consolidated and incorporated under the name of Meyer Bros. Drug Co., with an authorized capital of $1,750,000, Mr. C. F. G. Meyer assuming the presidency.

After completing these arrangements Mr. Meyer found that his health required him to rest, and in the spring of 1889 lie determined on a long stay in Europe to recuperate, and in the month of May, accompanied by Mrs. Meyer, he sailed and was absent an entire year, returning in May, 1890, greatly improved.

Although Mr. Meyer has been an eminent citizen and prominent merchant for so many years, he has invariably rejected all proffered honors of a political nature, and it was only by the earnest entreaties of his friends that he could be induced to become president of the National Wholesale Druggists' Association in 1884. But he has always been an active worker in all matters tending to elevate the drug business, and is looked upon as the father of the rebate system on proprietary medicines. He has taken part in all the meetings and important conferences of the wholesale druggists since 1865, and his advice on intricate questions has been eagerly sought far and wide.

But if Mr. Meyer has been conspicuous and meritorious in public and mercantile connections, he stands out brighter still in his domestic relations and his social character. Mr. Meyer has reared a large family, and all have imbibed his strong moral ideas and are infused with his unflagging energy.

In concluding this sketch it is a pleasure to contemplate and dwell upon a character so replete with superlative qualities as that of Mr. Meyer. To be acquainted witl him is to see instantly his amiable disposi tion, an amiability based on a sense of justice and springing from a kindliness of heart. As a friend he is sincere and constant, and the limit to which his feeling; might lead him is measured only by the worthiness of the person to be assisted As an employer he has the rare faculty of securing and retaining the good will of all and those in his service look up to him not as a master, but with a regard akin to filial affection.

As a devout Christian Mr. Meyer find; great consolation. His gentleness and the many virtues which adorn his character mark him as one of Nature's noblemen and if he had accomplished nothing more than the good which his influence has wrought, his fame would have an enduring foundation.

In St. Louis, Mr. Meyer's acquaintances were chiefly those of a limited social circle and with business men. He was a stockholder in several banks and was often called into business councils. His career here dates from 1865, when he came here from Fort Wayne, Ind., having already made a successful start in the drug trade in that city with his brother, F. J. W. Meyer. The St. Louis house was established first as a branch of the Fort Wayne firm, under the name of Meyer Bros & Co. It soon outgrew the parent concern. In 1889 the business was incorporated, with a capital of $1,750,000. About fifteen years ago the firm built the big block which it occupies at Fourth street and Clark avenue.