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George S. Billmeyer (1849-1917); Biography from Pennsylvania A History

George S. Billmeyer (Photo credit: Princeton University Archives, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library)
George S. Billmeyer (Photo credit: Princeton University Archives, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library)

This is a zoomed in view of George S. Billmeyer, from the side-by-side portraits of George and his father Charles Billmeyer that appeared in my post Resemblance is remarkable between Goodridge image of Charles Billmeyer and photo of his son, George S. Billmeyer.  This photo was taken during the spring of 1870; at the end of George’s junior year, while attending college in Princeton, New Jersey.

I’ve often wondered why George S. Billmeyer does not appear in George Prowell’s 1907 History of York County, PA; Biographical Volume II.  Yet three pages are written about him in the Biographical Volume of Pennsylvania A History.  I think I discovered the reason, after visiting the Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton University last month, while reading things written about George S. Billmeyer in the Class of 1871 Reunions booklets.

From the 20th Class Reunion in 1891, the following was written about George S. Billmeyer:

Has a constitutional dislike to reporting, due to his modest desire to blush unseen, but rises to the surface long enough to advise Terbell that he expects to be at the Class dinner. … It is, perhaps, not out of place to note here the fact, as stated by those best acquainted with the tenor of Billmeyer’s life, that we have no man in the Class more philanthropic than he, no one more actively engaged in doing practical good in more admirable methods.  As he never says anything upon his own account, it is but fair that some one should say a word for him.

I would imagine that when George Prowell approached George Billmeyer about including a biography in his upcoming 1907 York County History; Billmeyer probably declined.  The class records indicate that George Billmeyer shied away from publicity while he lived; yet after he died in 1917, he could no longer refuse.

Pennsylvania A History – Biographical Volume, by George P. Donehoo in 1926, included three pages devoted to George S. Billmeyer; pages 41-43.  [11/3/13 Update:  I have since learned that the 41-43 page transcription that was sent to me, is not from the George P. Donehoo book Pennsylvania A History, as claimed; maybe it is from another one of his books or another History of Pennsylvania.  If anyone comes across the book containing this passage, please post a comment.]  Likewise, the booklet for his 50th Class Reunion at Princeton in 1921 included seven pages devoted to George S. Billmeyer; pages 8-14.

Related posts include:

Continue reading for part of the George S. Billmeyer biography from Pennsylvania A History.




I’ve gotten a few comments, along the lines; what’s your fascination with the railcar builders Billmeyer & Small?  I’ve done a lot of research about the business Billmeyer & Small and the Billmeyer family to keep the historical part of my historical novel Railcar Gold as accurate as possible.

I selected Billmeyer & Small as the central theme in my historical novel because of a connection to my grandfather, Luther S. Smith.  Luther was born and brought up in East Prospect within Lower Windsor Township.  He was a borderline orphan; his Mon died when he was 12 years old and his Dad died 3-weeks following his 21st birthday.

Luther S. Smith moved to the City of York, boarding with an uncle, in hopes of landing a job with the Pennsylvania Railroad.  He initially had odd jobs painting and got married to Iva Gilbert; whose family had moved from East Prospect to the City of York about the same time as Luther.

Luther got a full time carpentry and painting job at Billmeyer & Small by the time his son Paul was born.  He did eventually get the job working for the Pennsylvania Railroad; starting August 1, 1901, however was put out of service for 10-months after working for the railroad only 3-months.

That had to be a difficult time for Luther, his son Paul was only 1-year old, he had purchased a house and his wife was pregnant with their second child.  Luther S. Smith had to be thankful for getting another job at Billmeyer & Small during those 10-months.  This was a time period when Billmeyer & Small’s railcar business was very much in decline; only producing replacement parts for railcars.  Although, they still had a thriving lumber manufacturing part of the business.

I’ll like to think that I’m repaying a debt to Billmeyer & Small for helping my grandfather get through difficult times.  That is why I have selected Billmeyer & Small as the central theme in the historical novel Railcar Gold and why I’ve done so much research on the business.

The Billmeyer family is researched in depth because the Railcar Gold first generation fictional character that ties a host of historical events together in the 1800s is an orphan named Dan.  By happenstance Dan passes through York, is befriended by Charles Billmeyer and decides to stay.  Charles Billmeyer’s oldest son George is only two years older than Dan, as such, I’ve done a lot of research about George S. Billmeyer.

What follows is the core part of the biographical account of George S. Billmeyer that appears in Pennsylvania A History – Biographical Volume, by George P. Donehoo, Editor-in-Chief, Lewis Historical Publishing Co., Inc., 1926, pages 41-43:

George S. Billmeyer was born in York, Pennsylvania, June 7, 1849, died at his home in that city January 13, 1917, the eldest son of Charles and Elizabeth (Kolb) Billmeyer, his father one of the founders of the Billmeyer & Small Company, which established a large plant for the manufacture of passenger and freight cars in York seventy years ago, and for many years this company was among the largest manufacturers of cars in the United States.

Immediately following the Civil War, the company attained a wide acquaintance among the railroad constructors of the country and assisted in the promotion of several western railroads, which have become large factors in the development of the territory, which they traverse.  The company also played a large part in the building up of the city of York.

The ancestors of Mr. Billmeyer were early residents of the York community.  His [great]grandfather, Andrew Billmeyer, established a printing house for the printing of the Holy Bible and other books in Yorktown about 1794.  George received his elementary training in the schools of his native town, and prepared for college at the York County Academy.  He entered Princeton University and was a member of the class of 1871.

His education complete, Mr. Billmeyer directed his attention to filling a business career, for which, by birth and breeding, he was adapted.  He became a member of the firm of Billmeyer & Small Company, and with intelligence and characteristic energy gave himself to the task of familiarizing himself with all the details of the business, which had been established in 1845 as H. Small’s Sons & Company, the style later becoming Billmeyer & Small Company.

Mr. Billmeyer’s father died in November 1875, and his son George took over his interests in the company.  In 1876 the business was incorporated as the Billmeyer-Small Company, and on the death of John H. Small, in 1902, Mr. Billmeyer was elected president of the company, and was, for the last fifteen years of his life, the only surviving member of the firm.

Other leading corporations, industrial, financial and of public service, with which Mr. Billmeyer was officially connected, were: Vice-president and director and chairman of the executive committee which built the present reservoir and planned the impounding dam of the York Water Company; director of the York Gas Company, the York Trust Company, the Columbia Water Company, York Improvement Company, Susquehanna Turnpike Company, Chanceford Turnpike Company, Gettysburg Gas Company, York Steam Heat and Power Company and Edison Electric Light Company; was one of the original directors of the York Chariot Line, which later developed into the York Railways Company; and a director and treasurer of the J. E. Baker Company.

Apart from his business interests, which at heart he subordinated to the other, his lifelong devotion to the church, benevolent and philanthropic institutions and causes, was the result of the compelling motive of his career.  As a child of four years, he entered, in 1852, the Sunday School of the First Presbyterian Church of York, and then began that period of unbroken allegiance which only terminated in his death.  He became a member of Class 3, of which Joseph Root was teacher.  In 1870 he was elected assistant secretary and held that office for more than forty-five years.  Beginning with 1886, he annually, at his own expense, awarded the premiums on Children’s Day for the memorizing of the Scripture and the shorter Catechism and for regular attendance upon the sessions of the school.  He himself had an almost unbroken record for attendance, but one absence on account of illness being known.  In the church itself he occupied a large and influential position, and for twenty-eight years served that body as a trustee, having also served the Temperance Society, connected with the Sunday School, as its secretary from 1866 to 1917 a period of fifty-one years.

He was a trustee and secretary of the York County academy, and always greatly interested in the education of the young people.  During the last forty years of his life he had at least one and sometimes three and four young people attending colleges, who, without his assistance, would have been unable to obtain a higher education.  He was a trustee of the York Young Women’s Christian Association from its organization until his death; a director and secretary of the York Hospital board; and one of the early directors of the York Young Men’s Christian Association.  These organizations have, since his death, officially expressed their irreparable loss in worthy testimonials and unstinted appreciation and commendation of his exceptional character and of his fidelity through all the years of varied and multiplied activities.

George S. Billmeyer married (first) Emma Augusta Hauser.  She died in January 1902, and in March 1904, he married (second) Fannie Edwards Evans, who survives him.

In memory of Mr. Billmeyer, his sister, Mrs. J. E. Baker, presented to the First Presbyterian Church of York, on May 20, 1917, a beautiful and stately pulpit.  It is a fine acquisition to the church furnishings, and a solid and impressive structure, its lines of grace well befitting the other appointments of the auditorium.  As a memorial it also harmonizes with the eloquent testimony to Mr. Billmeyer’s life and service to the church, and more especially to the Sunday School that has been given by the various organizations since his death.  The Sunday school, the Temperance Society, the Brotherhood have all in the most emphatic way testified to his devotion and his increasing labors of love on their behalf, while within and without the church upwards of 300 written tributes bear witness to the usefulness of his life from the far-reaching influence that flowed from it.

Notice that I inserted [great] into the second sentence of the third paragraph: “His [great]grandfather, Andrew Billmeyer, established a printing house for the printing of the Holy Bible and other books in Yorktown about 1794.”  I’ve seen Andrew Billmeyer incorrectly reported as George S. Billmeyer’s grandfather in many instances.

The grandfather of George S. Billmeyer is actually Daniel Billmeyer.  I’ll get into those details within my post next Wednesday.  You’ll find there is a reason that I named the Railcar Gold first generation fictional character Dan.

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