Joseph Meyer

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Joseph Meyer (painting, ca.1840)

Carl Joseph Meyer (born on May 9, 1796 in Gotha ; died on June 27, 1856 in Hildburghausen ) was a German businessman , industrialist , publicist and publisher . He founded the Bibliographical Institute .


Birthplace of Joseph Meyer (Querstraße 5 in Gotha)
Joseph Meyers (after a photo, engraved by G. Wolf, ca.1840)
Joseph Meyer (oil painting by Gerhard Renner (1990) after a daguerreotype around 1850)

Origin and childhood

Joseph Meyer's ancestors on his father's side were full-time craftsmen: Büttner, carpenters and shoemakers. The father, Johann Nicolaus Meyer, born in Rügheim in 1759 , looked for a field of activity as a shoemaker in Gotha around 1780 and expanded his company into industrial production. Joseph Meyer's mother, Maria Juliane, née Leinhos, was the daughter of a stocking knitter in Gotha.

Joseph spent his childhood together with his four years younger brother August in a small house in the center of Gotha, where his father ran his shoemaker's workshop on the ground floor. He grew up in simple, but not poor, circumstances. The father sent both sons to the renowned Gothaer Gymnasium Illustre . Joseph was later to take over his father's business, and August was to be given the opportunity to study theology. At the grammar school, Joseph stood out for his impetuous demeanor. When he wanted to avenge his younger brother, he added a broken arm to the opponent and was expelled from school in 1807 - with the judgment: "The boy's life will be nothing."

The parents sent the now eleven-year-old to the small community of Weilar in the Rhön (then Duchy of Saxony-Weimar ) to see pastor and school inspector Salomo Grobe, who ran a school boarding school based on philanthropic principles. Here Joseph was brought up according to humanistic , progressive and liberal values.

The early years

training as a businessman

Not yet fourteen years old, Joseph Meyer began his apprenticeship as a merchant in 1809. He started his training with a business friend of his father's in a grocery store in Frankfurt am Main . However, the hard work week of sometimes over eighty hours did not stop him from using the weekends for his education. Here his ambition and the irrepressible will to learn and to work on oneself became evident early on.

After completing his training in 1813, Meyer returned to Gotha. He saw the withdrawal of Napoleonic troops and, like many other Germans, expected positive results from the Congress of Vienna for the peoples of Europe. In Gotha, the father had meanwhile expanded his business considerably. But Meyer's youthful thirst for action was by no means satisfied with working in his father's business.

Stay in London

Ernst Wilhelm Arnoldi , who later founded the “Gothaer Feuerversicherungsbank” and the “Gothaer Lebensversicherungsbank”, finally became aware of the seventeen year old . Arnoldi supported Meyer in his efforts to get an office in a large trading house. Through Arnoldi's mediation, Meyer was introduced to Duke August von Sachsen-Gotha . He won the sympathy of the sovereign, who was interested in the young man's plans. Meyer received a traineeship at the London export and import business of "Eybe and Schmaeck" and was commissioned by the Duke to acquire rarities for his oriental cabinet from the East India Company's auctions. In the summer of 1817 he began working in London .

In London he followed the path of the capitalist wholesale merchant. His work was mainly focused on speculative business. In his prime, Meyer had around 100,000 thalers, but lost everything in a coffee speculation and drove his company into bankruptcy . Completely ruined, he fled London in 1820 to escape the debt tower . Duke August was also in financial distress, not least because of Meyer's failure in London. The Duke confiscated the property of Meyer's father, who died in 1823 without ever seeing his son again.

The young entrepreneur in Thuringia

In 1820 Joseph Meyer again went to Weilar to see Solomon Grobe, where he gave lessons in the newer languages. Here his love for the 16-year-old daughter of the pastor and friend, Hermine "Minna" Grobe, awoke. The engagement was celebrated in the fall of 1820. Salomo Grobe was appointed to the parish of Maßbach in the same year . Meyer stayed in Weilar and made friends with Christoph Freiherr von Boyneburg -Lengsfeld, with whom he founded the "Freiherrlich von Boyneburgische Gewerbs- und Aülfsanstalt" in 1821. Boyneburg advanced the money and left Meyer to run the company. Meyer promoted the local yarn bleaching and dyeing works and tried to introduce industrial structures here. But again he got entangled in speculative business and drove high losses. In addition, the majority of the workers fell ill from the chemicals used in 1822. Boyneburg intervened and allowed Meyer to continue the company until the debt was repaid. When this was done in 1824, Boyneburg closed the factory.

Meyer returned to Gotha for the second time, failed in 1824. He decided to practice the profession of literary man. His writing skills had already been shown beforehand. His economic study Über Papiergeld (1823), in which he interfered in the debate about the introduction of paper money in the Duchy of Saxony-Weimar, as the main opponent of which Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had appeared, was best known . In the Henning bookstore in Gotha he was finally employed because of his entrepreneurial experience and knowledge of English and commissioned with the publication of a correspondence sheet for merchants, which was planned by Hohlfeld as early as 1818 and which appeared weekly from May 1, 1824 and was a great success. Meyer organized German-English translations of works by Shakespeare and Scott for the correspondence journal. The publication of the Shakespeare editions as a series caused difficulties, however, because Meyer's translations were criticized.

The Bibliographical Institute

Memorial plaque at the former location of the Bibliographical Institute in Hildburghausen
Former headquarters of the Bibliographical Institute (Obere Marktstrasse 44, Hildburghausen)
Joseph Meyer Monument in Hildburghausen

The birth of the son had inspired Meyer to found his own publishing company. On August 1, 1826, the Bibliographical Institute was opened in Gotha. The owner was Hermine Meyer; Joseph Meyer contented himself with the designation of managing director. His failed speculative deals had made him cautious and he wanted to take this step to secure his family.

Meyer was one of those fighters who wanted to give the people a universal education. He regarded the active bourgeois man as the one who confronted the feudal state obstacles and was able to remove them. This meant those obstacles that stood in the way of the rapid development of the capitalist mode of production .

In 1826 he published the library of German classics (150 volumes), at low prices that had hardly been achieved until then and with high sales figures. An equally successful atlases series followed shortly thereafter. Meyer was one of the first publishers in Germany to sell his books using the subscription process .

Meyer soon realized that the company in Gotha was too small for his rambling plans. He planned to add a technical operation with printing and bookbinding to the actual publishing house and looked around for suitable buildings. The merchant Johann Erdmann Scheller from Hildburghausen , who had offered to be a partner, negotiated with the Duke of Saxony-Meiningen and his government. On October 30, 1828, Meyer wrote to the Duke of Meiningen that his institute could certainly become a company with world renown. Bernhard II was one of the princes who were open to progressive currents in cultural and intellectual life. The government councilor Schenk was finally able to sign the contract “Se. Ducal Highness "with" Mrs. Minna Meyer ".

The Bibliographical Institute moved to Hildburghausen in December 1828 and moved into what was then known as the Brunnquellsche Palais. Meyer moved the cabinet library and the miniature library of the German classics here . It was here that the third edition of the cheapest classic books was given a unique new edition in the years 1848–1854, the political significance of which cannot be denied under the impression of the bourgeois-democratic revolution of 1848/49. This third edition of the cheap series appeared under the name Meyer's Groschenbibliothek (in 365 volumes). The announcement was made under the slogan “Education makes you free”. This slogan remained the motto of the Bibliographical Institute for many decades.

Meyer's publishing activity impresses with further significant and groundbreaking achievements:

  • Introduction of the two-column system - which made the publication of Meyer's encyclopedias much clearer and keywords were easier to find.
  • Rich illustration - especially in Meyer's universe , numerous steel and copper engravings were used, connoisseurs also considered the Bibliographical Institute to be an art publisher
  • Introduction of the subscription - the financial advantage that the buyer had to pay for the next one when purchasing one tape secured the production costs.

The company became extraordinarily successful; Main branches in Amsterdam, New York and Philadelphia were established. Meyer's influence on education policy should not be underestimated. His educational policy enlightenment reached the masses of the people, his expenses went in high editions around the world.

Meyer's clear partisan stance was also expressed in the fact that he released all his employees on the anniversary of the Battle of Nations , October 18, 1830. No other entrepreneur in Saxony-Meiningen had introduced something like this in his company.

Joseph Meyer's work made the Bibliographical Institute an important intellectual center in all of Central Germany. Meyer is without a doubt one of the most important publishers in Germany in the first half of the 19th century. All in all, his publishing program is one of the progressive cultural acts of the bourgeoisie pushing for power, in whose development a bourgeois-opposition consciousness Meyer played an active part. Despite the feudal state handicap, Meyer made a decisive contribution to bringing the people closer to education and culture.

Meyer's Lexicon

"Ur-Meyer" (1840–1852 / 1855) in the Hildburghausen City Museum

The big conversation lexicon for the educated stands. In connection with statesmen, scholars, artists and technicians , published in 52 volumes from 1840–1855, is one of the most important book publications of the 19th century and is a milestone in the history and development of the encyclopedia . Similar projects that have already appeared, such as Brockhaus , the Universal Lexicon of Present and Past by Heinrich August Pierer and the General Encyclopedia of Sciences and Arts by Johann Samuelersch and Johann Gottfried Gruber , were, in Meyer's opinion, in need of improvement. Meyer's high objective was, in addition to economic aspects, the imparting of knowledge with an appropriate education of the citizens. Meyer's journalism proves his progressive philosophical approach to world historical events and the achievements of important personalities as well as his partisan attitude to the basic questions of the time.

The lexicon developed into an instrument of the progressive bourgeoisie with which educational work was carried out, but also the attack against the feudal regime was carried out. Meyer, who himself wrote numerous articles in the lexicon, asked his colleagues to explain in a "clear, stimulating and instructive way" that "a clear, lively and, up to a certain point, complete insight into the matter can be gained from this". "The most interesting aspect of every object is always to be found, that is, the side from which a scientific meaning or practical importance emerges most clearly and strongly." "Additional circumstances" should also be mentioned, "to emphasize the latest state of the matter"; Avoidance of "dry schemas and conceptual breakdowns"; All articles in the lexicon must retain the “peculiar type” of the writer “according to form and tendency”, who should be “strong, marked”, “precise and fresh”. He demanded partiality and inner sympathy for everything that was happening in the interest of the people and urged his employees to deal with the progressive ideas of all areas of knowledge. The editorial team worked with 120 authors. The 52 volumes of the lexicon contained over 90 million words.

The political publicist

In 1832 Meyer's active involvement in the German opposition movement began. He and Philipp Jakob Siebenpfeiffer , one of the later speakers at the Hambach Festival , had reached an agreement to publish a magazine under the title Der Hausfreund in the Bibliographisches Institut. Behind the distracting title should hide the progressive presentation of the situation and forces in Germany. But even after the trial issue, the magazine was banned.

Joseph Meyer, who was pondering ways and means to circumvent the prohibitions and censorship, decided in the same year to publish further political writings. He brought out Der Volksfreund in his publishing house in May and reported here in detail on the rallies by liberals and democrats on the ruins of the Maxburg near Hambach . The Volksfreund quickly became the mouthpiece for the ideas of unity and freedom of the German people and was again banned by the German Federal Assembly ( Bundestag ) in September 1832 .

A year after the ban, Joseph Meyer brought out a new magazine. He called it Meyer's Universe . Over the next few decades, volume after volume appeared, and Meyer personally wrote all of the articles in the form of essays. Here he also incorporated hidden attacks against the reaction, skilfully writing close to the limits of censorship. In connection with the publication of the magazine, his workers in the company went on strike, who were dissatisfied with the low wages and the increasing workload. It was the first ever book printer strike in Germany.

Railroad and mines

MEYER stone number 4 marks an iron ore deposit investigated by Meyer near Bad Liebenstein

Since 1837 Joseph Meyer had entered new territory. He struggled with projects to build railroads and open mines. He was one of the pioneers who planned new railway lines from the foresight of the national unity of Germany, who wanted to lay one of the foundations for building an independent modern German large-scale industry. In 1835 the Nuremberg – Fürth railway line was opened. The sovereign, Duke Bernhard II , was also caught in the "railway fever": he considered building a line and commissioned Meyer, among others, with the planning.

Meyer went public in 1846 with a plan for a "German Central Railway Network" in which he had included seven railway lines. The economic crisis that soon set in and the revolutionary events made Meyer abandon this plan again. He planned another north-south connection in 1853. Years of negotiations failed due to the resistance of the Kingdom of Hanover .

Iron ores, iron works , steelworks and rolling mills were needed to build railway lines . Meyer received the concession for the mining of minerals in the Duchy of Saxony-Meiningen in 1837. He also sought similar concessions from other principalities, and step by step he acquired a large “coal and steel property” in central Germany. Meyer also founded the "Deutsche Eisenbahnschienen-Compagnie auf Actien", a stock corporation with a share capital of two million talers. The works were created in what is now Neuhaus-Schierschnitz in the Sonneberg district (Thuringia). Back then there were coal mines in or around Neuhaus and Stockheim .

He continued to fight for the Werra railway project , but a feeder line to Neuhaus-Schierschnitz was blocked by the Meiningen government in order to ruin it economically. After his death, the railway was built as planned by him.

Meyer in the revolution of 1848/49

Wall painting in the city and district library "Joseph Meyer" ( Hildburghausen town hall , 2nd floor)

Under the influence of the February Revolution in France in 1848, the Duke of Saxony-Meiningen was also approached with demands and petitions. The most important and most comprehensive of all these petitions is Joseph Meyer's reform address of March 12, 1848. Here, among other things, he called for the federal government: the establishment of a German people's parliament; the creation of German citizenship; Freedom of speech, writing, belief and assembly; equal weight, measure, coin, postal and rail tariff; free school tuition for the whole people; and for Meiningen: the abolition of the term subservience; the abolition of the privileges of birth, freedom of choice, total reform of the state administration. Meyer organized a broad debate on the reform address and also carried out a collection of signatures. A large number of people supported Meyer's demands.

One of the first measures taken by the Duke of Saxony-Meiningen in the bourgeois revolution was the lifting of censorship. Further concessions were only temporary, however, and Meyer then published the so-called Parliamentary Chronicle , in which he observed what was happening in the Frankfurt parliament and in turn advocated the comprehensive education of the people. In his 1848 article "To my people!" Meyer demanded more clearly than ever that the republican solution had become inevitable with the overthrow of the feudal aristocracy.

In the course of the revolution, Meyer developed into a consequent revolutionary democrat, which he proves in Meyer's universe . His attacks against the reaction initially lead to the refusal of concessions, put off donors and in 1851 he was finally imprisoned for four weeks in the Hildburghausen prison, the Fronveste, on charges of lese majesty. In 1852 he was captured again for three months. He wrote letters to his son Hermann at that time as “Residenzschloss Fronveste zu Hildburghausen”. In one of these letters it says: “They want to humiliate me, to make me pliable or brittle. The stupid devils might also know that good iron gets harder with every hit! "

The last few years

Grave of Joseph Meyer and his wife Hermine in the city cemetery in Hildburghausen

In his last years his railway and ironworks projects were torpedoed by the Meiningen government in order to provoke Meyer's bankruptcy. The Werra railway project also received the concession to found a bank and credit institution, which Meyer had sought in 1856. Only his son Hermann Julius drew the necessary line in the railway and mining business after Joseph Meyer's death.

The publishing house continued to run successfully. In 1855 Joseph Meyer founded the Meyers history library for general knowledge of cultural and national life . In one of his last essays in the universe he writes: "Educate the people to save the fatherland, and with the same you save freedom."

Meyer worked tirelessly until the end to realize his versatile publishing program. After a stay in his mountain garden he was surprised by the rain; he contracted pneumonia from which he eventually died.

Marriage and offspring

Joseph Meyer married Hermine Grobe (1804–1874) on May 25, 1825 in Maßbach . With her he moved to Gotha, where he bought a piece of land in what was then the Erfurt suburb. On April 4, 1826, a son was born to the couple who was named Hermann Julius and later took over the publishing house. Six years later, on February 1, 1832, their daughter Meta (1832–1875) was born in Hildburghausen . Hermann Julius and Meta remained the only children of the marriage. Meta married Franz Bornmüller (1825–1890) who worked as editor in the institute.


(in chronological order)

  • Felix Bamberger:  Meyer, Joseph . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 21, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1885, pp. 602-605.
  • Armin Human: Carl Joseph Meyer and the Bibliographical Institute of Hildburghausen-Leipzig. A cultural-historical study. In: Writings of the Association for Saxony-Meiningen History and Regional Studies. Volume 23. Hildburghausen 1896, pp. 59-136.
  • Rudolf Schmidt: German bookseller. German book printer. Volume 4. Buchdruckerei Franz Weber, Berlin / Eberswalde 1907, pp. 686-692 ( online at ).
  • Johannes Hohlfeld (Ed.): From Joseph Meyer's Wanderjahren. An episode of life in letters. London 1817-1820. (= Publication for the centenary of the Bibliographical Institute). Bibliographical Institute, Leipzig 1926, DNB 576306207 .
  • Johannes Hohlfeld: The Bibliographical Institute. Festschrift for its centenary. Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig 1926, DNB 58096230X .
  • Ernst Schocke: The German unity and freedom movement in Saxony-Meiningen 1848-1850. FW Gadow & Sohn, Hildburghausen 1927, DNB 364026162 .
  • Ernst Kaiser: Joseph Meyer - the forty-eight bibliographer and economic planner. Weimar 1948.
  • Karl Heinz Kalhöfer (Ed.): 125 years of Meyers Lexicon. Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig 1964, DNB 453033091 .
  • Günter Gurst: Carl Joseph Meyer. Dedicated publisher, revolutionary democrat, prolific author. In: Börsenblatt for the German book trade . Volume 143. Leipzig 1976, DNB 1030682259 , pp. 980-984.
  • Heinz Sarkowski:  Meyer, Joseph. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 17, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1994, ISBN 3-428-00198-2 , p. 296 f. ( Digitized version ).
  • Karl-Heinz May: The fiery spirit Joseph Meyer 1796-1856. Frankenschwelle, Hildburghausen 1996, ISBN 3-86180-051-9 .
  • Peter Kaiser: The plan maker. The extraordinary life of the publisher Carl Joseph Meyer. Salier Verlag, Leipzig 2007, ISBN 978-3-939611-17-2 .
  • Alexander Krünes: Carl Joseph Meyer as a pioneer of a political enlightenment in the sense of liberalism. In: Alexander Krünes: The Enlightenment in Thuringia in the Vormärz (1815-1848). Böhlau, Cologne / Weimar / Vienna 2013, ISBN 978-3-412-21071-7 , pp. 229-255.

Web links

Commons : Joseph Meyer  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Joseph Meyer  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Correspondence sheet for merchants. Weekly report from London, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Paris, Berlin etc. on commodities, government paper, money and bills of exchange.
  2. ^ Rolf Engelsing: A bibliographical plan from 1826. 1968, p. 2869.
  3. Meyersteins. In: Natur- und Heimatfreunde eV Bad Liebenstein. Retrieved July 21, 2016 .
  4. = 3,500,000 Rhenish guilders
  5. ^ Review of Carl Joseph Meyer and the Bibliographical Institute of Hildburghausen-Leipzig. A cultural-historical study. In: From the home - sheets of the Association for Gotha History and Antiquity Research. Volume 1, No. 4. Friedrich Andreas Perthes, Gotha 1898, pp. 165-166 ( digitized version ).