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Photograph showing Theodore Roosevelt, three-quarter length portrait, facing slightly right.
Theodore Roosevelt. Photo: c.1900, R. W. Thacher. Library of Congress Prints and Photograph Division.

The Company Behind the Eyeglass Case that Saved Teddy Roosevelt

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This post was written by Nanette Gibbs, Business Reference and Research Specialist in the Science, Technology & Business Division.

The eyeglass case with the bullet hole on display at the US National Park Service’s Roosevelt Birthplace on 28 E. 20th Street, New York, NY in July 2007. Photo credit: Richard W. Allen (talk) at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In a blog post published by the Library of Congress entitled The Pocket Items That Saved the Life of Theodore Roosevelt, reference is made to the “ordinary items that were unintentionally but strategically placed by the victim in a breast pocket that blocked the course of an otherwise lethal bullet… The first was a thick fifty-page speech manuscript folded in half. Behind that was a metal eyeglass case in which Roosevelt kept his spectacles.” The company that made the spectacles and the steel case that held them likely saved Roosevelt’s life as he was the intended target of an assassin’s bullet the evening of October 14, 1912. The company that made the glasses and the case was E.B. Meyrowitz of New York City.

While walking down 44th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues in New York, I noticed a shop with the Meyrowitz sign with eyeglasses displayed in the window. I was always interested in the Roosevelt encounter with the assassin and how Roosevelt, despite the bullet wound, went on to give the speech at the convention, so I went in to see if it was the same company. The company, Meyrowitz and Dell, has a new owner, as do the other Meyrowitz stores in London and Paris. I was told they’ve been in business for years—a common phrase used by New Yorkers to convey trust. When I returned to the Library I decided to try and find out more about Emil B. Meyrowitz.

Text-only advertisement announcing the removal of our store at 88 E. 6th St. to more commodious quarters 114 East 6th Street, one door from Robert St. A cordial welcome is extended you in anticipation of the pleasure it would afford us to serve you. E.B. Meyrowitz incorporated Opticians Two Stores 114 E. 6th Street St. Paul 358-360 St. Peter St.
Ad for a new E.B. Meyrowitz location in Minnesota, showing the expansion of the store. Image from The American Jewish World (Minneapolis), 12 May 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.

Examining the American Biographical Archive, I was able to determine that he was born on October 20, 1852 in Greitfenhagen, Germany. When I contacted the Geography and Map Division about the town’s name they informed me that prior to WWII the town was known as Gryfino, Poland. Meyrowitz was a graduate of an optical college in Moscow and came to America when he was 21. He started his own business, and at the time of his death owned a large factory with seven branches. He had several inventions to his credit all in the optical field, according to his obituary in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (December 11, 1937, P. 7).  Using the Library’s city and telephone directories, I was able to determine that in 1913, Meyrowitz already had 4 stores and Chronicling America revealed he also had stores in Connecticut, Minnesota, etc.

According to the current owner (not a relation), Meyrowitz has been in business since 1875 and was also known to have designed the goggles worn by the famous aviators, Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh. The description notes for the patent application reads:

This invention is particularly applicable to goggles for aviators and motorists where the prevention of fogging in the glasses is an essential requirement and where sturdiness of construction and ease in articulation and in replacement of parts is a desideratum.

Pieces of a disassembled goggle with diagrams
E.B. Meyrowitz (April 2, 1935), Goggles, patent 1,996,587.

The National Park Service’s Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace Museum in New York has the shirt Roosevelt wore the night of the attempted assassination as well as the steel case that he used for his spectacles complete with the bullet hole that fateful night in October.

Section of a brochure from the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace depicting items on display, including the shirt Roosevelt wore, along with the eyeglass case and speech. Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site, New York, 2010. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

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