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A. Meister
A. Meister, 1864-1970; Mishawaka, Indiana; A. Meister & Co., 1870-1888; A. Meister & Sons Co., 1888-1920; Sacramento, California; A. Meister Sons Co. 1921-1924 Sacramento & Woodland, California
Associated Builders
Pacific Car Building Company, 1920-1921; Sacramento & Woodland, California

A. Meister (1837-1911) was born on May 14, 1837 in the village of Ruchen, Hesse-Cassel, German. As was the custom at the time he was apprenticed at the age of 14 to a blacksmith in the neighboring village of Bischhausen. He completed his apprenticeship and along with his brother Reinhart, traveled to Bremen to board a ship headed for North America.

They arrived at the port of Baltimore in June of 1854 and proceeded to Pittsburgh where jobs were awaiting them with the Benn Street carriage builder C. West & Co. In the Spring of 1857, Meister took a new position with a Michigan City, Indiana manufacturer of railroad cars. One year later he took another position with a Mishawaka, Indiana builder.  

In the spring of 1857 he went to Chicago, and after working there two weeks, proceeded to Michigan City, Indiana, where he worked about a year in the car shops. He then went to work for Mishawaka Wagon Works in Mishawaka, Indiana, and worked there until the lure of striking it rich in the gold rush prompted a trip to California.

Meister and his future brother-in-law, destination was Placerville, California, where they prospected unsuccessfully for two weeks. Meister then traveled west where he found employment with J.A Mason, a well-respected blacksmith and vehicle builder in Sacramento.

He returned to Mishawaka in 1862 and went back to work at the Wagon Works, marrying the former Maggie Beard in 1863. In 1864 he established his own firm, A. Meister & Co., eventually returning to Sacramento, California in 1870 where he took in a partner, Thomas Fargher.

Fargher withdrew from the firm in 1874, and in 1877, Meister relocated to larger quarters. His fine carriages, breaks, wagons, stage coaches and commercial vehicles became well-known and business improved to the point where he erected a new 4-story 60’x 190’ factory at the corner of Ninth and D Sts. in 1882.

By 1888, Meister could boast that he was the top carriage builder in the state, as he had been awarded five ribbons at that year’s California State Fair. A further six were collected at the 1889 State Fair, and business picked up considerably at his Sacramento shops which now employed twenty hands and had been renamed A. Meister & Sons to reflect the fact that his three oldest sons - Albert R., Charles and Edward had entered the firm.

By the turn of the century A. Meister & Sons had started to manufacture commercial vehicles for the region’s growing population of merchants. They specialized in invalid coaches and hearses and were amongst the earliest manufacturers of auto buses which started appearing in California just after the turn of the century.

During this period inter-urban railroads were also appearing in some of the region’s larger metropolitan areas and Meister began producing railroad passenger car bodies to meet the demand. Meister was a skilled rail-car builder and blacksmith and his firm’s iron works was considered the best in the Sacramento Valley.

In 1903, Sidney S. Albright resigned from his position at Studebaker Brothers, to become head of Meister’s paint department. Albright would leave Meister in 1909 to form his own equally successful Sacramento body-building enterprise.

The citizens of Sacramento had been riding in Meister’s fine carriages since the early 1870s, and when California entered the automobile age, Meister started creating coachwork for the horseless carriage. The firm contemplated producing their own electric automobile in 1910, but only one prototype is known to have been built.

Following the death of A. Meister in 1911, control of the firm transferred to his five sons, Albert R., Charles, Edward, Frank and George. Albert R. Meister became the firm’s president, Charles Meister, vice president, and Edward A. Meister treasurer and secretary.

For many years Meister had exhibited at the California State Fair which was held each year just outside of Sacramento. An Overland Model 79 touring bodied by Meister won the gold medal at the 1914 Fair in the ‘under $1500’ category.

A 1916 advertisement listed the firm’s main line of work as manufacturing Automobile Bodies, Auto Stages, Hotel Buses and Hearses. By the end of the decade Meister had established factory branch offices and service depots in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

One notable automobile body created by Albert R. Meister was the ‘Infamous Boat Car’ which was built for his own personal use. The vehicle featured brass rails, mahogany decking and a boat-tailed rear end. Meister’s wife, Ethel thought the car was “too fancy” and did not like to ride in it.

A fire destroyed the two-story Meister auto & carriage factory on April 5, 1919. Sixty-eight automobiles valued at $100,000 were consumed by the blaze which also destroyed four buses being built for the City of San Francisco that were valued at $6,000 each. The total loss exceeded $400,000, of which only a portion was covered by insurance.

The firm relocated to the old Globe/Eagle/Liberty Iron Works plant on Del Paso Blvd. in North Sacramento. The original Globe Iron Works dated from 1895 and manufactured rod and geared ‘gypsy’ type locomotives patented by John Dolbleer. The firm remained solvent through the middle teens when it was reorganized as the Liberty Iron Works by Sacramento banker J.M. Henderson. Liberty converted over to the manufacture of airplanes in September of 1917 when it was awarded a contract to produce 300 Curtiss JN-4 aircraft to help train pilots at Sacramento’s Mather Field. Liberty went out of business soon after war’s end.

The Pacific Car Building Co. was organized by Albert R. Meister in 1919 to manufacture automobile, bus and truck bodies. The firm sought to build a plant in Woodland, California, a small city located 20 miles west of Sacramento. Pacific Car had already taken over the operation of Meister’s Sacramento plant and the proposed Pacific Car plant was dependent on the successful sale of $150,000 in stock to local residents.

The project was supported by Woodland’s chamber of commerce and an experienced bond salesman, Sam E. Whiting was in charge of the stock offering. Pacific Car’s officers include James Westerveldt (aka Westerfelt) president, (a San Francisco attorney and former treasurer of the Ewing American Motor Truck Co of Cleveland, Ohio which was absorbed by General Motors); Lieutenant Washington Irving, vice-president; Albert R. Meister, vice-president and superintendent of construction; Harry B Young, vice-president and secretary.

The following display advertisement appeared in the Woodland Daily Democrat on April, 12, 1920:

“Salient Facts About the Pacific Car Building Co., Woodland’s New Enterprise

“You can regard this as an announcement and not an appeal. The Pacific Car Building Company represents an expansion of A. Meister & Sons Company of Sacramento. It is a going concern with an organization of business men, skilled mechanics and orders in advance to guarantee constant operation at high tension. During the year 1918, before the fired destroyed the Meister plant, its earnings were $54,759. Enlarged manufacturing facilities in Woodland and an abnormally increased demand for the product manufactured would seem to warrant the statement that its earnings would be greatly increased in the near future.

“The stock offered at the present time is a preferred stock, cumulative interest, bearing eight per cent and redeemable in five years at $115 per share, at the option of the holder. In other words it is, in a financial sense, a first-mortgage bond, because as long as there is property remaining stock-holders are entitled to their pro rata interest in the property.

“With every four share of preferred stock there is given as a bonus for the present, one share of common stock. Assuming that the plant will earn the future, as it has in the past, the total interest earned to the purchaser over a five-year period would be approximately 18 per cent per annum.

“Fifty shares of preferred stock – or $5,000 worth – is all that will be sold to any one person in Yolo County of the Sacramento Valley: in fact, the Pacific Car Building Co. is only desirous of placing $150,000 worth of these securities on the market at present.

“We want financially responsible people to subscribe for this stock – whether they purchase one share or fifty. We can furnish you dependable information concerning this investment so that you will be familiar with it from every angle.

“Prudent, cautious, hard-headed business men and women of a community make it a success. A sound proposition requires no blare of trumpets. This communication is addressed to you as an argument rather that an appeal.

“Three reasons why you should own some of the preferred 8 per cent cumulative tock of the Pacific Car Building Company:

1. The factory for the manufacture of cars, trucks, auto bodies, equipment for standard railroads and other projects will be located in Woodland, where the money Woodland men and women invest will be spent, where it will circulate for the benefit of merchants, professional men, all classes of business men and property owners and where it will serve to enhance the value of every town lot, every acre and every business institution – but beyond that – IT IS AN EIGHT PER CENT PREFERRED STOCK – made secure as a collateral by the money you have invested.

2. There is an increasing demand for the products to be manufactured that will not be met in the coming decade. It is not a question of securing contracts but rather one of procuring material and labor in order to make it a great million dollar proposition. EARLY INVESTORS WILL THUS SECURE AN ADVANTAGE.

3. If you believe – and we do not hesitate to assume that you do – that this plant will enhance the value of your property, materially increase the population of Woodland, add to your business and make yourself as well as your neighbor doubly prosperous and serve as a general tonic for good we believe you will give serious thought to the matter of an investment with us.

“Write for one of our circulars. It will convey to you a comprehensive and dependable idea of what it will represent to you and your community. We have offices in the Porter building – rooms 305-6-7, third floor telephone 531. If you will call personally we will tell you about it in a business-like way – if you telephone or write we will call on you. ALL WE ASK IS THAT YOU REGARD IT AS A BUSINESS PROPOSITION.

“Very truly yours, S.E. Whiting, financial agent, National Car Building Company

The plans of the Pacific Car Building Company came to an abrupt halt in the fall of 1920 when the Unit Construction Company of San Francisco attached the unfinished Woodland plant for an unpaid bill of $26,000.

Apparently only $50,000 of the 8% stock had been subscribed, yet the firm continued construction of the plant in the hopes that the remaining $100,000 needed to complete the building would materialize before the plant was finished. It did not, and the plant’s general contractor, Unit Construction Company, shut down the worksite.

A Yolo County Grand Jury found no criminal activity was involved in the failure however there was a general consensus that the firm’s president, James Westerveldt, was the cause of the firm’s insolvency and plans were initiated to reorganize the firm without him.

On June 29, 1921, articles of incorporation were filed for the A. Meister Sons Company. The firm was capitalized with a sale of $1 million worth of stock, divided into shares worth $100. The board of directors included Charles H. Vosburgh, M.H. Stitt, L.E. Hutchings, all of Woodland, Glanville Hart of Stockton, and H.E. Myers of Sacramento.

The firm was organized to take over the assets of the bankrupt Pacific Car Building Company and to finish building its Woodland, California plant which was 50% complete.

The $1 million Stock offering stated that Meister:

“ …is the largest and most complete industry west of Chicago engaged in the manufacture of gas railway coaches, automotive vehicle bodies, hotel and school buses, hearses, stages and trucks.”

“The company has already built cars for the Union Pacific Street Car Line (San Francisco), the Municipal Railway Company of San Francisco, the Ocean Shore Railway Company, and the Hetch Hetchy Water Company operated by the City of San Francisco.”

“At the present time, the Woodland factory is building gasoline cars for the Nevada-California-Oregon Railway Company, while contracts for cars have been made with the Minarets and Western Railroad Company of Fresno, the Sugar Pine Lumber Company of Fresno and the Verdi Tunnel Railway Company of Arizona.”

Meister built a number of light-weight spruce-framed bus bodies for the San Francisco-Oakland Terminal Railways in May of 1921. Built on White Model 15 truck chassis, Meister was able to trim almost 1000 lbs. off the weight of the 23- passenger bodies by emulating airplane construction methods.

In 1921, Meister Sons took over the Fresno, California body building firms of Glennon & Hartwick and Central Auto Trimming creating a sales office and service depot at the corner of Broadway and Monterey Sts., Fresno. Meister eventually relocated to larger quarters located at 1830-1836 H St. At various times the firm also operated sales offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Meister relocated their Sacramento plant from the former Liberty Iron Works to a new two-story factory located at Sixteenth and North B Sts., Sacramento during early 1923.

In March of that year they received an order for 12 gasoline-powered interurban railroad cars from the Japanese government, although it’s not clear if the vehicles were built.

During December of 1923, creditors of A. Meister Sons Co. seized the firm’s Sacramento and Woodland assets, effectively putting a halt to the firm’s Northern California operations. Various schemes to reorganize the Meister Sons Company were floated during 1924, but the firm’s estimated $300,000 debt dissuaded investors.

The firm’s creditor numbered over thirty, the two largest being the United Bank and Trust Company of Sacramento – owed $100,000 - and the Waterhouse & Lester Company of San Francisco who were owed $40,000.

A San Francisco contractor held a $30,000 mortgage on the 3-year-old Woodland plant and what remained of the firm’s remaining Fresno and Sacramento real estate and assets were sold to San Francisco’s Fiegenberg Brothers in August of 1924 for $25,000 in cash.

Meister’s 910-914 Ninth St. factory in Sacramento was added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1978.  

© 2004 Mark Theobald -






Hon Win. J. Davis - An Illustrated History of Sacramento County, California. Lewis Publishing Company 1890.

Sacramento Bee (numerous issues 1880s-1925)

Woodland Daily Democrat (numerous issues 1919-1925)

California Historical Society - 678 Mission Street, San Francisco CA

G.N. Georgano & G. Marshall Naul - The Complete Encyclopedia of Commercial Vehicles

Albert Mroz - Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Trucks & Commercial Vehicles


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