Meyer Guggenheim: A king in ‘Our Crowd’
At about the time Sam Brannan set off gold fever in San Francisco on May 12, 1848, running through the streets and shouting "Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!" a ship from Hamburg docked at Philadelphia's Delaware River wharf and unloaded a cluster of Guggenheims. The gold strike was a fitting harbinger of the great economic and political upheavals America would endure in the following decades en route to becoming an industrial behemoth. And gold was a fitting metaphor for a landscape ripe for fortunes to be made. The patriarch of the Guggenheims, Simon, settled his brood in Philadelphia and became a peddler of notions. He was joined by his son Meyer -- born Feb. 1, 1828, in Langnau, Switzerland -- who covered Pennsylvania's gloomy anthracite region. Meyer's best-sellers were coffee essence, a precursor of instant coffee, stove polish, a paste to cover up rust and scratches on the ubiquitous coal-burning iron stoves of the time, and lye.