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Little-Known Brooklyn Businesses: The Meyer Saddlery Corporation

Jun 2, 2010 9:02 AM | 3 comments

Thanks to Tara, we've been having fun learning about "Little Known Brooklyn Residents" lately.  So why not a spin-off series about the businesses that kept these residents employed? 

For example, if it weren't for the Meyer Saddlery Corporation, where would Al Sharp (below) have cultivated his years of experience in the bridle making trade? 

Al Sharp Works on a Bridle, Eagle, 1949.

The Meyer Saddlery Corporation, like so many Brooklyn businesses, was a family affair.  It was founded around 1852 by German immigrant George Meyer near Kings Highway.  Mr. Meyer had a unique angle that separated his business from the dozens of other saddleries listed in the 19th century business directories:  he exclusively created materials for horse racing.  Sometime before 1890, George moved both his business and his family residence to a small, two-story frame structure at 1801 Ocean Parkway (near Avenue R), which provided him with easy access to the Brooklyn Jockey Club across the street, as well as to the race tracks at Gravesend, Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay and Jamaica. 

Brooklyn Atlas, 1890.Brooklyn Atlas, 1890.

According to a history of the company found in a 1937 issue of the New Yorker, George left his business to his three sons, Victor, Charles and Leon.  However, our records indicate that was not the entire story.  By the 1910 census, George had died, leaving behind his widow, Maria, and four adult children:  Naphtalle (age 40), Leon (33), Victor (28) and Carrie (45).  And it is Carrie, or rather Caroline, who is listed as the owner of the saddlery in the 1912 Trow Business Directory (take that, fellas!):

Trow Business Directory, 1912.  

Why Caroline was forgotten in the 1937 profile is unknown, but by then only Leon remained.  Under Leon's leadership, Meyer Saddlery grew to be "the largest such establishment in the country."  It was no longer a business for just the local tracks.  Meyer had sales representatives in California, Florida and other racing locales.  Back on Ocean Parkway, employees handcrafted saddles, bridles, blinders, boots and jockey silks, which were known as "sets of colors."  In addition, Meyer also distributed "bandages, elastic stockings for bad-legged horses, blankets, brushes, tubs, feed pans and buckets and even beds and beddings for grooms." 

William Meyer Dews on Halter.  (Note: Mr. Meyer is unrelated to firm founder.) Eagle, 1949.

In 1949, Meyer Saddlery was profiled in the Eagle, when these photographs were taken.  At that time, Leon's widow, Mary, owned the business and co-managed it with her second husband, Clinton Zimmer.  The Zimmers carried on the Meyer family reputation for quality work.  Jockeys' sets of colors were a particular specialty.  Each year, the company produced nearly 500 jockey silks and 1,500 pairs of jockey boots.  According to the Eagle, 75% of the jockey colors in the industry were created by Meyer Saddlery.  Filing drawers were used to organize the various color and pattern combinations because no two horses were to have the same pattern during a race.  In addition to the professionals, celebrities like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Lana Turner ordered riding wear from Meyer.  Ms. Turner's prefered pattern, white diamonds on yellow silk, was a particularly special request for seamstress Mildred Grieco (below). 

Mildred Grieco Working on Jockey Shirt, Eagle, 1949.

Samuel Pizzuto, Foreman, Stitches Blinker Cups onto Hoods, Eagle, 1949.

The Eagle piece is the last known reference to the Meyer Saddlery Corporation in our collection.  Mr. Zimmer mentions in the article that the building was no longer zoned for industry and that they were lucky to still be in operation.  It is possible that as the family began to age, the business dwindled.  But that part of the story may require research for another day. 

And so it turns out that Brooklynology's first installment of Little Known Brooklyn Businesses is just as much about the people as the business.  But I suspect that is often the case in business history.  In fact, as I was completing this article I discovered that there are still connections between families and the jockey uniform business, as reported in this Monday's New York Times.


6/3/2010 1:29:27 PM #

Bravo Leslie--a tour de force.


6/6/2010 10:14:58 PM #

very nicely written and interesting


6/7/2010 11:02:03 AM #

I love Brooklynology's Little Known Brooklyn Businesses! Great post, Leslie.