Monterey County California Genealogy and History

Monterey County: Biographies



JOHN B. MEYENBERG

"Bring me men to match my mountains,
Bring me men to match my plains.
Men with empires in their purpose,
And new eras in their brains."

In far off Switzerland in the little town of Zug, of Swiss-German parentage, John B. Meyenberg was born on November 13, 1847. In a country proud and content in its dairying wealth and lore, the condensed milk industry was already a success. Another young man devoting his energies to this line was no apparent phenomenon, but in the soul of this particular laborer was a yearning for new eras and a purpose. Toiling in the Swiss condensing plants, principally at Cham, his brain awhirl with the idea of an "unsweetened" preserved milk product, Meyenberg experimented and experimented in evaporation and sterilization of milk, and after three years of earnest endeavor, from 1880 to 1883, perfected his process. A deep thinker, a thorough chemist, with an inventive mind as well, he made possible the preservation of evaporated milk without the aid of sugar, by inventing the revolutionary retort machine. In other words, in place of a sugary, thick milk substance, suitable only for emergencies, he gave to humanity a pure, palatable full cream milk, preserved indefinitely only by heat, applied in the retort machine, which food product is undoubtedly the greatest commodity of the century.

Not so quickly as it is here told, was this great task accomplished. The life road of John B. Meyenberg was marked by mounds of sunshine and long vistas of shade. But his genius, like the sun god, mounted high in the beckoning heavens of duty, well above the valleys of dejection. When his countrymen failing to understand the merits of his achievement refused his process recognition and assistance, he realized that again the old adage held true-"no man is a prophet in his own land." With sad regret, but firm convictions, Mr. Meyenberg and his family bade farewell to their country, sailing for America. In that same year, 1883, he was granted patents by the United States patent office at Washington, D. C, on his wonderful process, and in the next two years succeeded in organizing a company to work under these patents.

Evaporated milk was first packed in this country on a successful basis by John B. Meyenberg on June 15, 1885, at Highland, Illinois. Thereafter other evaporated milk plants were established under his direction at Monroe, Wisconsin, where "Monroe" brand was packed, and at Elgin, Illinois, where "Columbia" brand was put on the market. "Columbia" brand received first prize at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Then, to the ultimate west! At Buena Park, California, "Lilly" brand was packed with such excellent results, that Mr. Meyenberg went north to Washington, where he introduced "Carnation" brand to the markets of the world.

In 1904 Mr. Meyenberg decided he would originate but one more brand of evaporated milk and name it for his beloved Swiss mountains. In San Benito county, and the fertile Salinas valley he established plants, packing "Alpine" milk for an unlimited trade, and thereafter he retired from active business.

And what manner of man in private life was this genius? He had married Josephine Bossard at Zug, Switzerland, in the year 1878, and had three sons born to them: John Philip, at Cham, Switzerland, April 4, 1879, now president of the Meyenberg Evaporated Milk Company; Walter, at Highland, Illinois, June 15, 1885, now director of the Meyenberg interests in Stanislaus county, and Werner, at Buena Park, California, February 22, 1897, now a physician in San Francisco. "Pop" Meyenberg as he was familiarly called by old and young, was a keen, kindly gentleman, whose ready wit and old fashioned hospitality marked him individual and lovable. After his retirement in 1911: he made his home in San Jose, where Mrs. Meyenberg passed away March 26, 1914, and six months later, October 29, he followed her to the grave. From the humblest to the highest of his associates, socially and in his working world, his passing was sincerely mourned.

The elder sons have spontaneously chosen their father's profession. John Philip received his education in this line directly under his tutelage, first at Buena Park, later at the Carnation plants in Washington, where he personally organized the Kent unit, and with the International Milk Company of Chehalis, where "Primrose" brand was packed. In conjunction with his father he built the Hollister plant and cooperated with him in the direction of the Gonzales and Coburn plants. John Philip Meyenberg is directly in supervision of the Meyenberg Evaporated Milk Company and when their distinctly modern plant at Salinas was completed in 1922, in some effort to place a tardy wreath of fame to his father's memory, he conceived the idea of calling the output of this establishment, "Meyenberg Milk" generally called "M. M." brand. A still newer plant, packing Meyenberg Milk has recently been erected at Ripon, in Stanislaus county, operating under the management of Walter Meyenberg.

Quoting from the San Francisco Call and Post, in their issue of May 29, 1923, on "Famous Americans" we have the following: "Modern life largely depends upon our ability to utilize food produced thousands of miles from the most congested cities, and Meyenberg made that possible with milk, on which account, whether you favor one brand or another, you are still profiting from the successful experiments of John B. Meyenberg", without whose name the history of the Salinas valley cannot be written. And so it must appear that the bard's earnest prayer had drawn from the world of the old to Alta California a master mind to match the wonder of our natural grandeurs, as the empire of an essential industry bears ample testimony to the purpose of John B. Meyenberg.

Source: History of Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties, California : cradle of California's history and romance : dating from the planting of the cross of Christendom upon the shores of Monterey Bay by Fr. Junipero Serra, and those intrepid adventurers who accompanied him, down to the present day. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1925, 890 pgs.