Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Guide to the Otto Gerdau Collection

Collection ID:
Gerdau, Otto
Orr, Craig
Collection is in
. Some materials in
Physical Description:
0.15 Cubic feet
The collection documents the ivory importing firm of Heinrich Adolf Meyer, of Hamburg, Germany.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
Documents relating to the ivory importing firm of Heinrich Adolf Meyer, of Hamburg, Germany. It contains a booklet on "Ivory" published by the firm in 1889, a photographic album on ivory published around the same time, one black and white photograph showing the largest and thickest tusks on record, two photographs showing the firms factory, a photostatic copy of the firm's 1876 US Centennial Exhibition catalog, and photostatic copies of notices of the awards it won at the Exhibition. Also included are photoprints from the photographic album and two copies of photoprints showing the company's exhibit at the Centennial. There is also one letter in the collection.

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
Otto Gerdau was the New York agent for the German firm of Heinrich Adolf Meyer. The firm was co-founded in Hamburg, Germany, in 1818 by Heinrich Adolf Meyer and his father Heinrich Christian Meyer. The firm specialized in the import and export of ivory and its various substitutes, in both raw and finished form. the company's first factory was built in 1836; a new, larger factory was built in 1864. After his father's death in 1848, Heinrich Adolf Meyer ran the company alone. Meyer was a prominent man in Hamburg. he received a Ph.d from the University of Kiel in 1865 and was elected to the German Reichstag in 1877. It was through his influence that the Hamburg Aquarium was built.
Gerdau was a native of Hamburg, Germany. After emigrating to the United States, he founded the Otto Gerdau Company in New York in 1872. As the American agent for Heinrich Adolf Meyer, Gerdau imported ivory from germany. Following otto's death in 1920, his two sons, Carl and Allan, ran the company. Allan gradually assumed more responsibility for running the company's import lines which included rattan, mother of pearl, rugs from India, and marble furniture from Italy, in addition to ivory. After Allan died in 1986, the company was left in trust to three New York religious institutions who were to benefit from the company's profits. In 1989 the company was sold to a Florida industrialist and there is no longer any involvement in the company by the Gerdau Family.

Craig A. Orr
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Collection donated by Joan Rogers, January 1, 1990.
Processing Information
Processed by Craig A. Orr, archivist.
Custodial History
The bulk of the material was accumulated by Otto Gerdau during the course of his business and was donated to the Archives Center in January 1990 by his daughter. The original of the photostatic copy of the 1876 catalog is in the Warshaw Collection of Business America (AC0060), in the subject category Ivory. The two photoprints of Heinrich Ad. Meyer's exhibit at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition are copies of originals in the Centennial Photo Collection, Prints and Pictutres Department, Free Library of Philadelphia. The two photographs circa 1900 taken from an unknown book were donated in 1990 by the donor of the E.D. Moore Collection (AC0321), Edith Sibley.

Digital Content
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Using the Collection
Preferred Citation
Otto Gerdau Collection, 1876-1900, Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Conditions Governing Use
Reproduction fees for commercial use. Contact repository for details.
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research.

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Ivory Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Ivory industry Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

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