HC Meyer Jr.

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The company HC Meyer jr. was the first factory in Hamburg to use a steam engine industrially in 1839 . Its founder, Heinrich Christian Meyer , whom everyone had just named Stockmeyer, came from a modest background and, in his childhood, did not have the opportunity to attend school in a regular manner and for a long period of time. Nevertheless, he is considered to be the first major industrialist in the Hanseatic city.

The time of the company founder

Meyer initially worked in his father's small workshop on the floor. After it was, however, came to greater friction between them, he took just offered him opportunity foreman in a Bremer whalebone factory to be, with both hands and pulled at the Weser. After only one year, however, the small company filed for bankruptcy and the young Stockmeyer came back to Hamburg in 1817 with his wife, who had been married a year earlier, and a little daughter. Here, with borrowed money , he set up a workshop for walking sticks in the street Hinter St. Peter , today's Bergstraße, which initially only employed one employee besides himself. While he took over the production with this journeyman, the sister-in-law who lived in the house sold the products in a shop attached to the workshop.

After only two years, the business had developed so well that not only could a larger house be purchased, but four new employees had to be hired. Meyer recognized early on that not only new workers were important for production, but that an accountant was also needed who had to carefully enter the boss's written records in the books of accounts.

A few years later, the new house also turned out to be too small. For this reason, a move had to be considered again as early as 1823. A suitable property was found not far from the old location, on street Neuchâtel , which, however, should cost 28,000 bank marks . At that time, the young entrepreneur had not yet generated enough capital to be able to cope with the purchase price on his own. But since a local merchant named Assur Isaac was willing to help him out, the house could still be purchased. In the period that followed, the young company continued to expand rapidly. The 60th employee was hired in 1830.

As early as 1828, Stockmeyer had set up a health insurance company for his workforce, which was still in the tradition of the old, patriarchal guild funds. Occasionally it is claimed in the literature that Meyer already had his employees involved in the administration of this facility, but that is not true. In the statutes, he explicitly stipulated that the management of the fund should only be done at his own discretion. It was not until his successors, 20 years later, that workers were involved in cash management.

In the narrow streets of Hamburg, further expansion of the company was only possible to a limited extent. For this reason Meyer built a new and for the time large factory on the Leopoldus Schanze , an area outside the actual city fortifications, in which the city's first industrially used steam engine was used. This machine was recommended to visitors to Hamburg as an attraction worth visiting by travel guides. After more than a year of construction, 200 workers were able to start their work here in 1839. But Stockmeyer's urge to expand was by no means satisfied: in 1841 he sent his 19-year-old son, Heinrich Adolph , to the USA with the task of setting up his own whalebone factory there. Soon afterwards, the young Meyer set up a company in Jersey City, not far from New York, which was initially registered under his name and which was to supply the American market with whalebone products.

Only a few years later, in July 1848, Heinrich Christian Meyer died with his family at the age of only 51 of consumption. He left a large factory with 300 workers, various properties and a fortune of 603,004.8, - Bankomark.

The clear focus of production at that time was the manufacture of walking sticks, but there were also various other branches of production, such as B. ivory processing, whalebone tearing, trading in chair cane (= rattan) and a large sawmill. The successors in the company management included the eldest son Heinrich Adolph, the son-in-law Friedrich Traun and, a few years later, the son of the same name Heinrich Christian.

The time of the successors

In the 1840s, the American Charles Goodyear had developed a process for producing hard rubber from rubber and applied for a patent for it. At HC Meyer jr. It was feared that this new product could in a very short time displace all whalebone items from the market (“whalebone” refers to the whale whales' whales, from which corset boning, for example) was obtained. For this reason the Goodyear patent was acquired and experiments were carried out with it in their own laboratory. Although it was soon recognized that the fears were unfounded, it was also seen that combs could be made from hard rubber. And so in a short time a new product was created, for which a factory was built on the other side of the Elbe in Harburg in 1856 and named "Harburger Gummi-Kamm-Compagnie".

The city of Harburg belonged to the Kingdom of Hanover. Since labor was cheaper here than in Hamburg and Hanover had also joined the North German Customs Union (Hamburg, on the other hand, remained customs abroad for the rest of Germany until 1888), the company acquired large land on the southern side of the Elbe and initially relocated for cost and sales reasons the space-consuming chair tube production there.

In the 1860s, furniture production in Austria experienced a tremendous boom. At that time, chairs made of beech wood and rattan (e.g. the Viennese café chair from Thonet with a seat made of chair tube) were particularly popular. The company HC Meyer Jr. also benefited from this development, and in the course of a few years it was to become the largest tubular chair factory in the world and had branches in South-East Asia.

In addition to whalebone and chair cane production, walking stick production also remained in the parent company. The cane knobs were usually carved from ivory. But items such as billiard balls, knife handles and much more could be made from it. And so it is not surprising that the range of products and services continued to expand and that the company was able to hire its 1,000th employee in the second half of the century.

In 1864, Heinrich Adolph Meyer , the founder's eldest son, left the company, which was run jointly with his brother and brother-in-law, and started the ivory and so-called raw products industry under his own name in Barmbeck b. Hamburg self-employed. Only a few years later, in 1873, there was another separation: the sons of old Traun, Dr. Heinrich Traun and Friedrich Traun, took over the Harburger Gummi-Kamm-Compagnie and also left the company. The old Traun, however, retired in 1870 and left the management to his brother-in-law.

The sole owner of the company was now Heinrich Christian Meyer , who was able to cope with the solution in the other branches of production mainly because the products that remained in the company, such as B. the cane and whalebone processing, but also the chair tube industry, just experienced an enormous boom. In the period from 1864 to 1873, for example, net profits from pipe processing grew from 4,677 Bankomark to 245,667 Bancomark.

In order to give the company, which was still expanding, a strong foundation, Meyer brought a financially strong consortium into his company in 1882, which in the same year took over the management of the company, which was no longer to be a family business for a short time.

The time of the grandson

Share over 1000 marks of HC Meyer jr. KGaA of July 2, 1898

After the "Societätsvertrag" concluded in 1882 expired in 1891, Heinrich Christian Meyer, who was only 24 years old, took over management of the company together with Otto Mühry (until 1906). The two initially founded a limited partnership, which was later converted into a "KG auf Actien". Their share capital was 2,000,000 marks, and their statutes provided that the personally liable partners should be supported by a supervisory board as well as directors and authorized signatories.

After the hard rubber industry was separated from the parent company, the pipe business became increasingly important for HC Meyer jr. And since the processing method became more and more sophisticated and complex, it was now possible to produce new, previously unused products, for which there was quickly a flourishing market. Not only were there ingenious processing methods in the mechanical field, but new chemical processes were also developed, e.g. B. to remove resin from the so-called greasy pipe.

In the years 1895/96 the company acquired extensive properties in Singapore and set up large facilities there for washing, sulphurizing, sorting and bundling the pipe. She also had a subsidiary in New York that finally processed the semi-finished products produced in Harburg. Due to its international dependence, the company was badly affected by the trade boycott during World War I. So it had to do without the chair tube deliveries from Asia. Initially, the existing stocks could be refurbished, but you had to quickly think about a replacement product that was as equivalent as possible. And this product was found in the willow cane. Admittedly, willow reed weaving was nothing new, but it turned out that, with a few modifications, the domestic reed could be processed on the old chair reed machines. For this reason, own plantations for willow cane were built in Schwinde on the Lower Elbe. This decision should soon be worthwhile for business, as the military needed bullet baskets that could be excellently made from peeled willow cane. Although the company's classic products, i.e. the production of walking sticks as well as whalebone processing and, as shown, the manufacture of chair tubes, were completely ruined during the war years, the company was still able to write in the black.

With so many men being called to arms, there was another major problem facing the company. Until 1901, the company's founder followed the principle of doing without women entirely. But one now had to deviate from this iron rule. More and more women were hired and performed work that had previously been the responsibility of men. However, since they were paid considerably worse than their colleagues, the wages of the men who did work of equal value also fell. It was the first time that social problems arose publicly in a company that had previously said that social conflicts between the workforce and management were being discussed. But the company's boss, Heinrich Christian Meyer, who 15 years earlier had suggested setting up a workers' council, now did not want to hold talks with the elected representatives of the workforce and decided what should be done.


  • HC Meyer Jr. - in: Historisch-biographische Blätter . The State of Hamburg . 7th volume, Berlin, 1906
  • Dieter Rednak: The history of the company HC Meyer jr. Economic and social development of a company from 1818 to 1980. University of Hamburg, diploma thesis, department 05, Hamburg, 1980
  • Dieter Rednak: Company social policy in the 19th and 20th centuries using the example of the Hamburg company HC Meyer jr. In: Arno Herzig ao: Workers in Hamburg. Lower classes, workers and the labor movement since the late 18th century. Hamburg 1983, pp. 299-308.
  • HC Meyer jr: Limited partnership based on shares. Hamburg-Harburg / Elbe, 1818–1918, 1918
  • Percy Ernst Schramm: Hamburg, Germany and the world. Performance and limits of the Hanseatic bourgeoisie in the time between Napoleon I and Bismarck. Munich, 1943