Four bound volumes containing over 1,300 letters concerning American enterprise, invention, and trade
An American Consul in England
These four bound volumes of approx. 1,320 letters comprise the incoming and outgoing correspondence of Claude Meeker (1861–1929), during his service as U.S. Consul at Bradford, Yorkshire, England, between the years 1893 and 1897.
Meeker was a native of Columbus, Ohio. After attending the University of Nebraska, he returned to Ohio and had a long fruitful career as a political journalist in Columbus and then Cincinnati where his sideline cheerleading for the Democratic party flourished. Eventually working his way into a position as secretary for then-acting Governor Joseph E. Campbell (1843–1924), Meeker received his consulate appointment.
Five ALS’s in the archive from Campbell and two from his wife show their close relationship; a relationship so close that Claude named his beloved son, James E. Campbell Meeker in part, after the governor. One letter from Campbell is notable for its frankness:
Mandel Howard is a fraud. Carmine[?] got me to write a letter years ago. Please write to the judge to destroy it, and tell him Howard is a swindler. As to my somewhat celebrated speech I can only enclose a copy for your perusal. I do not see anything in it for emasculated, and expatriated Americans in London to “roust” me for. The papers in this country have not published any such “rot” as Smalley pretends to quote. Evidently he is writing for his constituency. You will see the d — l raised in Congress next Winter by both political parties if the Venezuela thefts are not restituted. Do you hear me? (July 22d )
Meeker’s duty to represent American trade and business interests did not mean he had to neglect “politics.”
American Enterprise and Invention Abroad
The correspondence shows Meeker as an expansive, forward–thinking supporter of American business abroad and a defender of American wool manufacturing interests in England, which competed with textile products produced by British manufacturers in Yorkshire.
Because of his investment experience and position as U.S. Consul in England, Meeker was well placed to seek London brokers to handle the sale of bonds for American corporations and to facilitate the acquisition of international patents for American inventors.
The Herald Publishing Company is a corporation incorporated under the laws of the State of California. The capital stock is One Hundred Thousand ($100,000). The earnings are about two percent per month on the capital stock. We wish to erect a “Herald Building” at a cost for lot $60,000 and building $60,000, total $120,000. The building will net the Company in rents other than the parts we use ourselves at least $10,000 per year. We wish to issue First Mortgage Bonds of the Company, mortgaging the building and lot also all the corporation effects of the H.P. Co. to secure the $120,000 necessary to purchase the lot and erect the building. Now the security would in value be…$250,000 this to secure $120,000 of first mortgage bonds, interest payable semi-annually. Now we can get the money in this country at eight percent but thought probable that better could be done in England, say at six percent. The proposition will stand any amount of investigation. Any inquiry could be made of the First Nat’l Bank of Los Angeles. Kindly let me know if it would be possible to sell these bonds in England. (Attorney Telfair Creighton in Los Angeles to CM, October 30, 1895)
I also met some oil men on a deal we have on for Ohio & Kentucky oil territory which looks good at this time for crude oil has gone up 25c. per Bbl. since you was here and the biz is booming. We are expecting higher prices, and good oil stock ought to sell to the English, you know, when you get over there let me know what can be done in that line and if it looks favorable I will fix up a good company with every thing in proper order, and bring it over with the Telephone biz, it will take about 60 days to get the Telephone property in proper shape, that is get in enough phones so the receipts will be enough to show that after paying 6% on a bonded indebtedness of $60.00 per phone that we can still pay a 12% dividend on $90.00 of stock her phone. I will get up a prospectus in good shape covering every detail, and think we ought to make some big money as the investment will be the safest and best of anything offered to our cousins. …we will want to float bonds to enlarge the plant with, so on this basis you can work and find out what can be done, and let me know, both as to oil and Telephone. Sorry you lost so much on the election but such is the life of a thoroughbred. (M.D. Shaw, President of Knoppenberger & Shaw, Petroleum Producers, Wapaknoeta, Ohio to CM in New York [circa November 17, 1895])
The great stress of work, preliminary to our annual meeting, now over, has prevented my earlier acknowledgment of your several notes. The speech or interview of Senator [Henry Cabot] Lodge, for which you ask, I have never seen. I shall see him shortly in Washington, and if I can then get track of it, you shall have it. Just now, while the Dingley tariff bill is hung up in the Senate, we are all very busy over the administrative law, which is undergoing a careful overhauling at the hands of the Ways and Means Committee. Some of the outs[?] about it, especially in the matter of consigned goods, are going to be copper-fastened this time. I am disposed to agree with you in the matter of the under evaluation at Bradford, except in the case of consigned goods. There I fear there is a large screw still very loose. It is a great pity you could not have ben with us longer in Boston. So many people have expressed regret at not having seen you. …I have received a number of very pleasant letters from Bradford within the past two weeks. They all seem to agree that my Bradford letter in the Bulletin took a more a more kindly view of the Yorkshire people than is generally expected from a Yankee who has the absolute misfortune to be a black republican. (S.N.D. North, Secretary of the National Association of Wool Manufacturers, in Boston to CM, January 4, 1896)
As an humble democratic American citizen I am anxious to obtain some information from that side [Great Britain], and conceived the idea of appealing to you. By way of explanation I will say I am taking out Letters Patent, here for a device for the Rapid Purification of water for domestic and manufacturing purposes. I have been advised by those who are familiar with the working of my system, to secure English Patents, and am told that country presents a wide field. If consistent with your feelings and position, you will kindly inform me of the cost for securing Letters Patent there, the length of time the Patents run, and about the time required to secure them, after making application you will confer a lasting favor. The machines I wish to put upon the market are of several sizes and capacity, and are intended for Residences, Hotels, Public Institutions, Hospitals and wherever Pure water is required. The capacity of the machines, being from 5000 galls. to 1,000,000 or more galls. each 24 hours, render it possible to furnish an unlimited amount of water as pure and sparkling is that taken from the Purest Springs. …I will mention the fact that I submitted my plans to Ex. Surg. Genl. Philip S. Wales, U.S.N. Dr. Wales is a great advocate of Filtration and an expert authority. He once advised me to secure Patents in England, thought it an immense field. Said he, “you can go there, demonstrate what your machines will do, Sell your Patents, and return, with money to burn — so to speak.” … It may interest you to state that I am a great admirer of Ex. Gov. James E Campbell, in fact he is my Political Idol, give me the power, He would be President tomorrow. …During his second campaign I took occasion to write to him, conveying my wishes for his success &c.… In reply I received a very kind letter thanking me, &c. signed Claude Meeker, Secy. I have that letter, and shall mention it in my will, bequeathing it as a rich legacy unto my issue. (W. Scott Barney, Boston, to CM, February 24, 1896)
I have no doubt that parties have figured upon a sale of the Graphotype foreign patents, but I have reason to doubt the ability of the party or parties to carry through such a deal. I control a large block of the stock of the company and I know that no plan of transfer is being favorably considered a present. I however, have the ability to place company’s patents in England, France and Germany, at any time, if favorable terms can be obtained… If you have in view any people who would like to negotiate for such a purchase I should like very much to be brought in communication with them. … No sale of rights in this machine could be considered outside the foreign; the American patents are closely held. … I consider the Graphotype the best machine on the home or foreign market; but I consider myself a judge in this respect, being an experienced printer and the original promoter of the principal competition the Linotype Company has had to contend with in this country. The Graphotype being this sort of a machine the importance, in a financial sense, of securing the controlled it abroad is apparent at a glance, especially considering the immense field still open to this kind of type-composition. (George Hoyt, The Ohio Storage Battery Co., to CM, February 16, 1897)
Some of the American inventions that Meeker championed in England included a new bicycle, convertible from single to tandem; a “tubeless tyre;” the “Cleveland Wheel;” a storage battery; a process for distilling illuminating, heating and motor gas; and a related combustion motor built for the inventor by Westinghouse. (Meeker himself was an investor in some of these companies.) In short, Meeker’s English post served as a trade fair of American industrial products at the dawn of the automotive age.
I cabled you to-day as follows: “Meeker, Bradford, Crawford sold United States, One million,” and I hereby confirm the same. In my last letter to you I informed you that Captain [W.M.] Crawford had gone to Washington to meet the Edson Bros., who were said to be the greatest patent authorities in the United States. … After making preliminary sketches and going into details, which required some five or six days, the Edson Bros. informed him that his invention was patentable, and that they would make him a proposition for the United States as follows: $20,000.00 to be paid cash in hand for demonstration; $30,000.00 to be paid when contract was signed; $100,000.00 when the gas motor is completed and car propelled, heated and lighted by the motor; $100,000.00 when the patents are finally issued, and within 90 days from that date $250,000.00 in stock, and the balance in cash, the consideration being one million dollars. Crawford also gave an option for the sale of all other countries with the exception of Great Britain, providing they can agree upon terms. … I impressed upon Mr. Butler, however, the fact that it would be better for Crawford to deal through us for the sale of the foreign patents outside the United States, as you had already received a proposition from Mr. Barham of a firm of London bankers, who were authorized to represent parties with Twenty million pounds sterling at their disposal, providing the invention was what Mr. Crawford claimed for it… Mr. Crawford stopped on his way from New York at Pittsburgh to see the Westinghouse people and left with them the plans for the construction of his gas motor. Inside of sixty days he hopes to have it perfected to the extent that he will be unable to make a satisfactory demonstration of its powers according to his representations, to all scientists, mechanical experts, and others who wish to witness its performance. (G.W. Meeker, Ohio investor, to his brother CM, January 17, 1897)
Foreign consuls based in the United States also contacted him for assistance:
Supposing that your Government, as mine does, permit their Consular Agents to transact business of any kind, when not interfering with their consular duties, I take the liberty of writing to you. & not to lose time, send you by mail a sample of a recently invented cleaner which takes the stains of oil &c. from cloth while in the process of manufacture, which I should like one or more of the manufacturers of cloth to try. Should you not be able, or care to act for me in the matter (I am president of the Perfection Cleaner & Expeller Co. [of Baltimore]) I will be under obligation to you if you will kindly put me in communication with a reliable person in Bradford, that will represent the company. The Co. propose in the near future to place the cleaner in all parts of Europe. … To Millers, we propose to sell it by the gallon, put up in ½ & 1 gallon packages at the rate of $3.50 per gallon fob [freight on board] Balto. To the trade, in bottles like sample sent you, we sell @ $2. per doz net. fob Balto. I am sure, that you will not find a cloth Miller, or any individual that will not buy it for his own use. (Prudencio de Murguiondo, Consul General of Uruguay to the U.S. at Baltimore to CM, November 2, 1895)
As consul, Claude Meeker had to be sharp. Whether the subject was mortgage bonds, oil, wool, patents, inventions, or shipping, Meeker had to smooth out troubles for American businessmen and help the progress of trade.
Claude Meeker, Liason
American Congressmen and other U.S. Consuls depended on Meeker to make friends with British merchants and textile manufacturers and to negotiate favorable English tariffs on American products. He also was sought out by English merchants, manufacturers, and financiers for assistance gaining local support for a variety of proposals and to gain access to American publications and technical information the English believed Americans had.
American brokers enticed Meeker into soliciting British investments in promising American enterprises. For these favors, Meeker was often induced to accept substantial commissions or blocks of company stocks. In a letter dated March 22, 1897, investment broker William R. English suggested the following:
I am quite anxious to have this [Lozier Manufacturing Co. and H.A. Lozier Co.] deal go through…I feel that if we can make a sale of this property that we can each make a snug little sum of money in the course of the next year or two, for I will here say that I can if this deal goes though take over to London industrial lines of business that will pay a larger yearly divined than does the Lozier matter…[It has] been customary for several people to be interested togather [sic] in such deals at this end of the line, and while I do not pertend [sic] to know everything, yet I believe that much better results can be accomplished, certainly we have more to divide between us, than if a number of people were interested in the same deal, my purpose therefore is to go myself after such business as I may think be good to take abroad, rather than to set in my office and to have some one else bring it to me and have to divide the work through him. I think without going any further into this matter that you will understand what I’m driving at, when we once secure a good entree to English investors I mean to follow the paln [sic] as above suggested, and I know that it will be successful, as I already have ten or fifteen good first class deals on the carpet.
As Meeker’s term of consular service was drawing to a close, pressures intensified. New York corporate promoter Joseph B. Hughes wrote as follows in a letter dated January 22, 1896 [i.e. 1897]:
Owing to the recent political cyclone I am of the opinion that your tenure of office is hanging by a frail thread and that you will be shortly one of the great army of the unemployed. With the valuable acquaintances and connections that you must have formed in England and Bradford, especially in the last four years, I know no reason why…there are not greater opportunities to make more here in the next year or two than you could in the Bradford Consulate in 25 years and I hope if you can see your way to effect the sale of these bonds, it will be the commencement of additional business that I know will be remunerative.
Meeker had to think of his own future too.
A Waning Consulate
In June 1896, before William McKinley was nominated as the Republican candidate for U. S. President, McKinley’s private secretary James Boyle wrote to Meeker enquiring about consular salaries and fees. The letter states that “office seekers” were already contacting McKinley, who was likely expected to be his party’s nominee and also to be the next president. Perhaps this was a subtle inducement to the Democrat Meeker to help the Republican candidate who would eventually control Meeker’s future as a U. S. Consul. A second letter from Boyle shows Meeker did supply the requested information. In the interval, McKinley himself sent a friendly thank-you note to Meeker:
Private & Confidential. I presume you are keeping informed as to political developments at home. Unless something entirely unforeseen arises, Major [William] McKinley will be nominated on the first ballot, and it is not unlikely that he will be nominated by acclamation. In my political confidences with you, you know I have always been frank; and therefore I do not hesitate to say that the Republican nomination for President this year is equivalent to an election. … As you can imagine, the office-seekers are beginning to come to the front. Already some of the most important offices both at home and abroad, are bespoken for. … I find a great deal of misunderstanding, or diverse understanding, as the consulships. If you can assist me in getting at the exact status of these offices, I would be very much obliged. … Would you therefore kindly let me know what the consulships at the following places in Gt. Britain & Ireland are worth — I mean the total net income, including salary and fees, and after all office, clerical and other official expenses have been met: London, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bradford [Meeker’s post], Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Southampton, Edinburg[h], Glasgow, Dublin, Cork and Belfast. I would particularly like to know as to London, Liverpool, Bradford, Manchester and Birmingham. If, for any reason, you want me to treat this matter confidential, of course, I will do so; but at any rate I shall not inform anybody as to the source of my information and if you do not care to make any statement as to Bradford that is all right. …P. S. Should you prefer not to give the desired information, do not hesitate to say so you will remain, as ever, my good friend. (James Boyle, Private Secretary to William McKinley, writing on McKinley’s Canton, Ohio letterhead, to CM, June 2, 1896)
I am in receipt of your favor of the 1st. inst. and thank you sincerely for the clipping enclosed containing Colonel John Hay’s card in the London Times. For personal expressions, I thank you. (William McKinley, Republican Presidential nominee, to CM, June 15, 1896)
Private. You have my hearty thanks for your two letters recently received. At the first opportunity I will convey to Major McKinley the information you forward in regard to the anomalous friendly interest in him but the manufacturers of Bradford. Of course the information you send me in the other letter, I accept is confidential and personal. Occasionally I hear something in the newspaper line [Meeker’s former profession]. I will keep my eyes and ears open, and will let you know if I come across anything that might be of advantage to you. … The indications are that your [Democratic] party will be cut in two by the action of the Chicago Convention in declaring for Free Silver. Although we show lose a few votes from the extreme Silver States, we shall more than make up the loss by carrying several of the border States. I expect that Major McKinley will win in Maryland, W. Virginia, Missouri and Kentucky, and he will sweep the entire North, with the probable exceptions above indicated. (James Boyle, Private Secretary to William McKinley, writing on McKinley’s Canton, Ohio letterhead, to CM, June 30, 1896)
When it became apparent that his term as Consul would not be extended under President McKinley, several American politicians or businessmen wrote to the president-elect on Meeker’s behalf, notably U.S. Representative Charles Henry Grosvenor. In a February 6, 189 letter to McKinley (present here as a copy), sent less than a month before his inauguration, Grosvenor makes a plea for non-partisanship on behalf of Meeker:
There has been sent to me from time to time an enormous endorsement of Hon. Claude Meeker. I have never yet seen such a unanimous support of any man for any place. The letters, addressed to you, are from California, District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York (more than a hundred people and firms), North Dakota, a large number of recommendations from Ohio, many of them Republican, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. These letters of recommendation are out of the ordinary and relate solely to the wonderful efficiency that Claude Meeker has developed in his analysis of the business of his consulate. … All these point to the fact that Mr. Meeker has achieved an enviable reputation entirely outside of any question of favoritism or of any political consideration. During my visit in England last summer I learned through Republican sources from men whose integrity in this behalf could not be questioned that while intelligently and faithfully representing the Government, Meeker had won personal popularity and I was careful to learn whether it was by reason of any possibility of favoritism in the discharge of his duty toward any of the interests involved, and I found, without exception, that no question of that kind could be raised. I believe that the right thing to do would be to keep Claude Meeker in office. I believe that you can well afford to do it, and without seeming aggressive, I want you to carefully consider the question. (U.S. Rep. Charles H. Grosvenor, Chairman, Committee on Expenditures in the Treasury Department, to President-Elect William McKinley)
Grosvenor sent a copy of the letter to Meeker and it is included here as well as another copy of a letter to McKinley. Grateful to Grosvenor, Meeker made a gift of several Scottish collie dogs to the Ohio Congressman. The dogs were lodged at the Botanical Gardens in Washington D.C. A month later, Meeker sent Grosvenor a bitter typed letter:
If you like I will write you concerning the dastardly treatment Consuls have received the last year, the indignities, annoyances insinuations they have been forced to submit to and nonsensical and absurd orders showered upon them from the State Department. If you want the information it will be backed up by every Consul in Great Britain and most of them in the Service. If the State Department under Olney and another [in quotation marks and underlined in manuscript] had deliberately started out to demoralize and destroy the Service it could not have been worse. I trust the dogs are all right. Give them a titbit [in manuscript quotation marks] for me. I rejoice that my old friend Jimmie Boyle goes to Liverpool. This [underlined twice in manuscript] administration intends standing by its friends and it will do it when they are in office as well as before. Some administrations do not. (CM to Congressman C. H. Grosvenor, March 6, 1897)
Meeker’s time as consul was up. His archive presents an eye-opening series of letters about the consular responsibilities and pressures on an American consul in England during the 1890s at the very beginning of the automotive age.
After the close of his consular career, Meeker returned to Ohio where he became an investment broker of stocks and securities.
The Archive Itself
Two volumes of the four volumes include original incoming correspondence, cables and deciphering codes received by Meeker between July 22, 1893 and June 30 1896; and between October 3, 1896 and March 31, 1897; these also include ephemera related to his attendance to gaming, social and diplomatic events. One volume includes ink transfer copies of outgoing letters sent by Meeker between January 8, 1897 and April 9, 1897. The fourth volume, a souvenir scrap/letterbook, includes correspondence and ephemera related to the birth of Meeker’s son in England on April 12 or 13, 1895. All items are as originally arranged by date.
Notable correspondents of Claude Meeker represented here include former Governor of Ohio and future President of the United States William McKinley (1843–1901); private secretary to William McKinley, James Boyle; White House “Secretary to the President [William McKinley]”, John Addison Porter (1856–1900), the first person to hold that title; Assistant Secretary of the Treasury and later first Chairman of the Federal Reserve Charles S. Hamlin (1861–1938); journalist Frederick Palmer (1873–1958); Los Angeles attorney Telfair Creighton (1856–1922); New York attorney and partner of future Governor of New York and U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, Walter S. Carter (?–1904); U.S. Senator-elect J.B Foraker of Ohio (1846–1917); former Governor of Ohio James E. Campbell (1843–1924); former Lieutenant Governor of Ohio William V. Marquis (1828–1899); E.C. Hovey of the Customs Textile Association of the United States; Ohio automobile inventor Harry A. Lozier; and U.S. Consul-General in London and later Mayor of Boston Patrick A. Collins (1844–1905).
I. Incoming Correspondence to CM and Miscellaneous Ephemera, 1893; 1895–1896
Approx. 310 Letters, some typed; approx. pp. Correspondence includes some telegrams and postcards. Also includes some letters to CM’s wife, Elizabeth Parks Meeker, and 5 outgoing letters (or a copy thereof) by CM. With 94 pieces of ephemera.
II. Incoming Correspondence to CM and Miscellaneous Ephemera, 1896–1897
Approx. 408 Letters, some typed; approx. pp. Correspondence includes some telegrams, cables, and postcards. Also includes some letters to CM’s wife, Elizabeth Parks Meeker. With 35 pieces of ephemera.
III. Outgoing Correspondence from CM, January 8–April 9, 1897
Approx. 580 Copy Letters, some typed; approx. pp. Letters transfer copies on tissue leaves. Includes some cable communications. With index of addressees.
IV. James E. Campbell Meeker Scrap Album Commemorating His Birth, 1895–1896; 1925
Includes 15 incoming letters to CM and/or his wife, Elizabeth Parks Meeker, and 12 outgoing letters by CM. Approx. pp. and pp. pages respectively. Correspondence includes some postcard and telegrams. With 19 pieces of ephemera. Scrap Album bound in full, gilt-decorated morocco. Outlying date of 1925 is in regard to a laid in letter from an Ohio physician sent to Elizabeth Parks Meeker acknowledging the receipt of the album as a gift, apparently given by her in memory of her late son, James E.C. Meeker.
Ref. Claude Meeker — Franklin County, Ohio Biographies accessed online, June 2015.