Guide to the Collection
This collection consists of correspondence, printed matter, letterbooks, scrapbooks, and other papers primarily documenting George von Lengerke Meyer's career as a businessman, ambassador to Italy and Russia, Postmaster General, and Secretary of the Navy.
George von Lengerke Meyer was a businessman, legislator, United States ambassador to Italy and Russia, Postmaster General, and Secretary of the Navy. Born in Boston on 24 June 1858, he was the son of George Augustus Meyer, a prosperous German-American East India merchant, and Grace Helen (Parker) Meyer, a descendant of a prominent New England family. Meyer graduated from Harvard in 1879, one year ahead of his friend Theodore Roosevelt, and three years later joined his father's firm, Linder & Meyer, Commission Merchants. He entered Boston politics in 1888 and, running as a Republican, won a spot on the city's Common Council. He advanced steadily to the Board of Alderman in 1891, was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1892, was chosen Speaker of the House in 1893, and served in that capacity until 1896, when he retired from the legislature.
As a reward for his party service, President William McKinley appointed Meyer ambassador to Italy in Dec. 1900. In Rome, Meyer's duties were primarily ceremonial and social. Still, he struck up meaningful friendships with King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.
When Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901, Meyer had hopes of a cabinet appointment. Instead, he received the important but unattractive ambassadorship to Tsarist Russia. Though disappointed, he performed his diplomatic tasks well in the critical period during and after the Russo-Japanese War, 1905-1906. As he had done in Italy, the Bostonian won the Tsar's confidence and was able to present American peace proposals to the monarch first-hand. In this way, he laid the groundwork for the Treaty of Portsmouth, which ended the war in the Pacific and won the Nobel Peace Prize for Roosevelt.
Upon Meyer's return to the United States in 1907, he was given a cabinet appointment as Postmaster General. During his tenure, he championed parcel post and the postal savings bank and, in the manner of most of his predecessors, dispensed political patronage in the form of postmasterships. His political work greatly aided the presidential nomination of William Howard Taft in 1908.
With Taft's election, Meyer was elevated to Secretary of the Navy, a prestige post that had been held by a number of Massachusetts men, including George Bancroft, John Davis Long, and William H. Moody. In the Navy Department, Meyer proved an able bureaucrat and used his diplomatic ability to establish a good rapport with the admirals. During his four years in office, he employed service aides to keep him better informed, instituted improvements in naval gunnery, ensured that navy yards met the needs of the fleet rather than local politics, and managed to cut waste in a number of bureaus under his jurisdiction.
Meyer returned to business in 1913, but remained active in public life. As World War I raged in Europe, he became an especially ardent advocate of military preparedness and a harsh critic of what he regarded as the neglectful policies of his Navy successor, Josephus Daniels of North Carolina. He also strongly supported the failed candidacy of Theodore Roosevelt for the Republican presidential nomination of 1916. Meyer died on 9 Mar. 1918 of complications resulting from a tumor of the liver.
The George von Lengerke Meyer papers consist of correspondence, printed matter, letterbooks, scrapbooks, and other papers primarily documenting Meyer's career as a businessman, ambassador to Italy and Russia, Postmaster General, and Secretary of the Navy. Of particular significance is his diplomatic correspondence from Russia about politics and social conditions there, the rule of Tsar Nicholas II, the Russo-Japanese War, and the Revolution of 1905; papers from Meyer's service as U.S. Postmaster General related to his campaigns for parcel post and postal savings banks; and Navy Department correspondence concerning the operation of navy yards and naval stations. The collection also contains political papers related to the Republican Party in Massachusetts and the nation. Important correspondents include Meyer's wife Marian Alice Appleton Meyer; his son George von L. Meyer, Jr.; Thomas Jefferson Coolidge; Winthrop Murray Crane; Frederic C. Dumaine; Curtis Guild; Henry Cabot Lodge; Theodore Roosevelt; and William Howard Taft.
Detailed Description of the Collection
I. Correspondence, 1808-1918
This series consists of correspondence and other papers documenting Meyer's career as ambassador, Postmaster General, and Secretary of the Navy. The series also contains a sizable amount of family correspondence. The principal family correspondent is Meyer's wife, Marian Alice Appleton Meyer, whom he married in 1885. Other family members include: Meyer's sisters, Heloise "Helo" Meyer and Elinor Meyer Frothingham; his son George von L. Meyer, Jr., known as "Bey"; and his daughters, Alice and Julia. Letters to and from family members discuss politics and diplomacy, as well as family matters, and correspondence with his son includes letters written while Bey was a student at Groton School and Harvard.
Business papers in this series include letters to and from Gordon Abbott, George S. Child, George Linder, J. Morris Meredith, Henry von L. Meyer, and the firms of Jackson & Curtis and Stone & Webster about personal finances and various business and real-estate ventures. Correspondence with T. Jefferson Coolidge, Jr. of the Old Colony Trust Company, Frederic C. Dumaine of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, Hugh Clifford Gallagher of the Walter Baker Chocolate Company, and William M. Wood of the American Woolen Company contains information on New England business and its close connection with local and national politics in the Progressive Era.
In addition to family members, business associates, Presidents Roosevelt and Taft, and others, Meyer also corresponded with Larz Anderson, Robert Bacon, T. Jefferson Coolidge, Winthrop Murray Crane, Eben S. Draper, W. Cameron Forbes, Curtis Guild, Jr., Charles F. McKim, William H. Moody, Endicott Peabody, Elihu Root, Count Joseph Somssich, Cecil Spring-Rice, Charlemagne Tower, and Henry White.
A. Theodore Roosevelt letters, 1900-1914
NOTE: This box contains original letters by Roosevelt removed from the rest of the collection. Photocopies of the letters have been filed in their original chronological positions in Boxes 1-26. Please use photocopies for research.
B. William Howard Taft letters, 1903-1914
NOTE: This box contains original letters by Taft removed from the rest of the collection. Photocopies of the letters have been filed in their original chronological positions in Boxes 1-26. Please use photocopies for research.
C. Early papers, 1808-1899
D. Italy correspondence, 1900-1905
This subseries contains Meyer's correspondence during his years as ambassador to Italy. Included are letters describing the court of Victor Emmanuel III, as well as considerable political correspondence with Henry Cabot Lodge and others discussing Meyer's abortive candidacy for Congress in 1902, the annual gubernatorial contests in Massachusetts, 1901-1904, and the presidential election of 1904.
E. Russia correspondence, 1905-1907
This subseries contains Meyer's correspondence during his ambassadorship to Russia. His long letters to Theodore Roosevelt, Secretary of State John Hay, and Henry Cabot Lodge detail the progress of the Russo-Japanese War from the Russian vantage point and Meyer's intense peace negotiations with the tsar and his government. Roosevelt's letters to Meyer discuss world politics and the Russian-Japanese diplomatic tangle. Also described in Meyer's correspondence are the revolutionary outbreaks against the Russian absolutist regime in 1905-1906 and the early history of the Duma, the Tsarist parliamentary experiment.
F. Postmaster General correspondence, 1907-1909
This subseries contains Meyer's papers from his years as Postmaster General. The bulk of the papers concerns the campaign for parcel post and the long and ultimately unsuccessful struggle for legislative enactment of the postal savings bank system, a pet project of Meyer's. Also included is considerable material on politics and the distribution of postmasterships. Among the most notable letters are those to and from Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Henry Cabot Lodge, Patrick M. Longan, and others discussing preparations for the Taft nomination and assessing Republican prospects in various sections of the country. Included are a few letters from Booker T. Washington, 1908, about political intelligence from Alabama.
G. Secretary of the Navy correspondence, 1909-1913
This subseries contains papers from Meyer's tenure as Secretary of the Navy under Taft. The correspondence is largely bureaucratic, dealing with such matters as appropriations, shipbuilding contracts, and work done at various American navy yards (especially Boston, Mass. and Portsmouth, N.H.). Major correspondents include William Howard Taft, Meyer's Assistant Secretary Beekman Winthrop, and Admirals William S. Cowles, Charles S. Sperry, William Swift, and Richard Wainwright. Included are a few political letters to and from Taft, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Theodore Roosevelt, as well as letters from Roosevelt about big-game hunting. Because of a serious case of typhoid contracted by Meyer, the subseries contains few papers related to the pivotal election of 1912, in which Meyer backed Taft over his friend Roosevelt. A few letters reflect Meyer's dismay over the Roosevelt candidacy.
Among the individual items of importance in this subseries are: a copy of a lengthy letter from President Taft to his son, Robert A. Taft, in 1911 reporting on political developments; two 1908 letters dealing with Meyer's role in the return of Eleanor Medill "Cissy" Patterson's daughter, who had been abducted and brought to Russian Poland by her Polish father; and a 1910 letter from Meyer to his wife describing an inspection trip to the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo, Cuba.
H. Later correspondence, 1913-1918
This subseries contains general business correspondence, letters on politics to and from Theodore Roosevelt, and notes and other papers about naval preparedness prior to America's entry into World War I.
II. Miscellaneous papers, 1896-1918
Arranged alphabetically by subject.
This series contains biographical notes on Meyer, newspaper clippings, pamphlets, speeches, and other papers related to his public career.
III. Bound volumes, 1883-1918
A. Letterbooks, 1907-1918
This subseries consists of 33 letterbooks of Meyer's personal and official correspondence during his years as Postmaster General and Secretary of the Navy, as well as four additional letterbooks of business and political correspondence.
i. Postmaster General letterbooks, 1907-1909
ii. Secretary of the Navy letterbooks, 1909-1913
iii. Miscellaneous letterbooks, 1907-1918
B. Press books, 1907-1913
These press books contain legislative proposals, memoranda, press releases, and speeches from Meyer's tenure as Postmaster General and Secretary of the Navy.
C. Scrapbooks, 1902-1916
This subseries contains 21 scrapbooks of newspaper clippings covering Meyer's service as ambassador to Italy, ambassador to Russia, Postmaster General, and Secretary of the Navy (Vol. 40-60); and two scrapbooks dealing with military preparedness in America during World War I, the policies of Josephus Daniels as Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt's return to the Republican Party, and the election of 1916 (Vol. 61-62). Volumes 41-43 describe the negotiations leading to the Portsmouth Treaty and peace between Russia and Japan, 1905; the often violent disturbances inside Russia, 1905-1906; and the opening of the Duma.
D. Von Lengerke genealogy, 1883
This volume contains a printed genealogy of the Von Lengerke family, compiled in German, with later annotations on the Meyers family.
E. Palazzo Brancaccio inventory, 1901
This volume contains an inventory of the second floor of the Palazzo Brancaccio, Meyer's Italian ambassadorial residence, prepared in Italian by Carlo Brancaccio.
IV. Oversize material
This series consists of oversize material dummied out from the rest of the collection.
George von Lengerke Meyer papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.
This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.
Materials Removed from the Collection
Photographs from this collection have been removed to the MHS Photo Archives.