Mary Meyer History
Mary Meyer and her husband Hans designed and manufactured pincushions in the mid and late 1930’s. I remember those animals, because I am their son Walter and I remember them in our small factory in Cranford, NJ.
In 1933 Mary and Hans Meyer started a business making tomato pincushions. Mary was a great seamstress and Hans was a great salesman and the combination created a small business in the 1930’s.
A pincushion was an absolute necessity in those days, as every woman made their own clothes and her children’s clothing. They used a lot of pins and needles and need a place to store them safely, in between projects.
If you go to “ebay.com” and search for pincushions today you will find over 4,200 pincushions. Many are quite old from the 1930’s and 1940’s, and come from different areas, such as Amish, Victorian, German, Japanese and many other categories that were in use when Mary and Hans started their business.
The designing and making were Mary’s responsibility and Hans sold them. In those days he was also the packer. As the tomato pincushion was quite plain, they decided they needed other designs to improve their sales. Mary created pincushions in the shape of animals, such as a Scotty, Cats, Elephants, Lambs, Rabbits, Horses, Ducks and Dolls. The choices were endless. So that’s how Mary Meyer started.
Dad would travel the eastern half of the US by train in those days. He went to all the major department stores – Marshal Field in Chicago, JL Hudson in Detroit, Woodward & Lothrope and Hecht Co. in Washington, DC and some of the chain stores like Woolworths and Kresges. They would place orders for thousands of animal pincushions. The wholesale price in those days was 30¢ each and they sold in the stores for 49¢.
I remember helping in the factory in New Jersey when I was 11 or 12 years old. Dad would have an order for 50 Woolworths stores. The factory was on the third floor. I helped carry the boxes; one box for each of the 50 stores, down 2 flights of stairs, to the street, put them in a high wheeled cart and push them to the post office about a block away. The pincushions were then mailed to 50 branch stores.
The same procedure worked for the department stores. Almost every woman sewed in the 30’s and 40’s and each one needed a pincushion. These were cute and inexpensive, and a place to stores their pins and needles.
The photos of our pincushions were from a collection of Mary Meyer vintage pincushions and dolls we made in the late 1930’s.
As I’ve studied more and more about animal pincushions, I found my Mother and Dad may have originated the idea of designing an animal to be used in place of the Tomato as a pincushion. Family history is wonderful, especially when we can relate to it.
By Walter Meyer
Photo by Linda Laughlin