George von Lengerke Meyer was born to a patrician, merchant family on June 24, 1858, in Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard in 1879 and entered the family business. Meyer began a political career in 1889 as a member of the Boston Common Council. In 1891 he joined the Board of Aldermen and was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1892. Meyer left office in 1896 after three terms as Speaker of the Massachusetts House. However, he continued his interest in politics and was a notable fundraiser for Republican candidates. His efforts were awarded in 1900 when President McKinley appointed him ambassador to Italy.
Letter from George von Lengerke Meyer to Theodore Roosevelt, March 29, 1902. From the Library of Congress Manuscript collection.
Meyer was an effective ambassador and mixed easily with European nobility. He continued as ambassador after McKinley’s assassination and supported President Roosevelt in the 1904 election. Appointed ambassador to Russia in 1905, Meyer played a key role in the negotiations that led to the Treaty of Portsmouth, which ended the Russo-Japanese War. Meyer became postmaster general in 1907 and served until the end of the Roosevelt administration. Under President Taft, Meyer was appointed Secretary of the Navy. He reorganized the department, increased retention of recruits, and overhauled around fifty warships.
Meyer retired at the end of the Taft administration. He was a strong critic of President Wilson, especially his naval policy. Meyer remained a supporter of Roosevelt and was active in the preparedness movement. He was part of the failed effort to convince Roosevelt to rejoin the Republican Party in 1916 and run for president. Meyer passed away at his home in Boston on March 9, 1918.
“George von Lengerke Meyer.” Miller Center. University of Virginia, n.d. Web. 4 Feb. 2014.
Wiegand, Wayne A. “Meyer, George von Lengerke.” American National Biography. Eds. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. Vol. 15. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Print.