Aaron Meier and Emil Frank: Founders of Meier & Frank Department Store of Portland, Oregon

Meier & Frank Department Store

Values Codes I – E – L – P


Aaron Meier was born in Ellerstat, Baveria, Germany in 1831.

Aaron Meier, Original Founder of Meier & Frank, Portland, Oregon, #WS2745

Aaron Meier, Original Founder of Meier & Frank, Portland, Oregon,

Meier migrated to Wilsonville, Oregon, in 1855, and began selling merchandise from a pack.

In 1857, he opened a store on Front Street in Portland, Oregon.

Meier partnered with a Mr. Mariholtz and brought in merchandise from San Francisco.

When his father passed away, Aaron Meier returned to Ellerstat, where he married Jeanette Hirsch in 1864.

Returning to Portland, Meier found his business and partnership had collapsed.

Using his inheritance, he opened a larger store in Front Street, where hired two brothers, Emil and Sigmund Frank, as clerks.

In 1873, Emil Frank became a partner and Meier & Frank was born.

The Great Portland Fire destroyed the store in 1878.

Great Fire of Portland Oregon

Meier & Frank was rebuilt and Sigmund Frank was also made a partner a few years later.

In 1885, Meier & Frank built a two-story masonry building on Taylor Street. In the early West, a masonry building said that the business was here to stay.

Early Meier & Frank Store, Portland, OR

Early Meier & Frank Store, Portland, OR

Emil Frank retired in 1888 and Aaron Meier died the following year, leaving Sigmund Frank the President, and Aaron’s wife, Jeannette Hirsch Meier, running the store “behind the scenes.”

The business expanded, and by 1898, Meier & Frank was “One of America’s Great Stores” — the fourth largest department store in the country.

Meier & Frank Full Department Store, Portland, OR, WSJH Postcard Collection

Meier & Frank Full Department Store, Portland, OR,
WSJH Postcard Collection

In 1914, Meier & Frank relocated to a new, elegant, five story building on 5th Street in Portland.

The 120,000 square foot, full-line department store had two elevators, and many mechanical innovations never before seen on the West Coast.

A ten-story annex was added in 1908, making it Portland’s first skyscraper.

Meier & Frank became famous for its high level of customer service. Its green wagons/trucks would deliver, free of charge, any purchases, whether they be a bedroom set or a spool of thread.

In 1915, Meier & Frank opened its new 16 story building with 11 acres of selling space.

Meier & Frank's 10 Story Portland Skyscraper Department Store, WSJH Postcard Collection

Meier & Frank’s 10-Story Portland Skyscraper Department Store, WSJH Postcard Collection

In 1922, a new radio station, KFEC – the Meier & Frank Station, broadcasted from the fifth floor with its antenna atop of the 16th story.

Employees included a young Clark Gable in the Men’s Wear Necktie Department.

When the banks were closed in the 1930’s, Meier & Frank invited all their customers to bring their savings to the store for safekeeping, and canceled all interest charges on their customer’s credit accounts.

For over 1,200 days during World War II, Meier & Frank ran a full page advertisement selling War Bonds.

At one time, Meier & Frank had a two-week War-Bond sale that totaled 32 million dollars — the largest single sale in the nation.

Meier & Frank Keep Growing!

Meier & Frank Keep Growing!

In 1966, to settle an on-going family dispute, Meier & Frank was sold to the May Co. Department Store Chain. [click here]

Meier & Frank's Monorail in Santa Land.

Meier & Frank’s Monorail in Santa Land

When Sigmund Frank died in 1910, Aaron Meier’s older son, Abe Meier, took the presidency and his younger brother Julius Meier became Store General Manager.

Aaron (Bud) Meier Frank, became the next President, a position he held for 40 years.



Julius Meier was a member of B’nai B’rith Lodge #65.



In 1930, Julius Meier was elected Governor of Oregon as an independent, making him the first Jewish Governor of the State of Oregon. He served from 1931 to 1935.

Julius Meier promoted Portland’s 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition and was considered the ‘father’ of the Columbia River Highway.

Jeanette Meier was a major supporter of Neighborhood Housewhich has been serving the poorer neighborhoods of Portland for over 100 years.



Jeanette Meier was also instrumental in founding the Jewish Shelter Home for Children in Portland in 1920. She literally paid the mortgage on the house. Julius Meier was the first President of the Jewish Shelter Home for Children.

Julius and Jeanette Meier were members of Temple Beth Israel of Portland.



Aaron and Jeannette Meier had four children: Fannie married Sigmund Frank; Abraham served as President of Meier & Frank; Hattie, who died at age two and a half; and Julius, who served as Manager of Meier & Frank.


Aaron Meier — 1831-1889

Emil Frank — 1845-1898

Sigmund Frank — 1850-1910

Jeanette Hirsch Meier — 1843-1925

Fanny Meier Frank — 1865-1930

Julius L. Meier — 1874-1937

Aaron (Bud) Meier Frank — 1891-1968



  • Steven Lowenstein, The Jews of Oregon: 1850-1950 (Portland: Jewish Historical Society of Oregon, 1987).

Gladys Sturman & Samantha Silver are curators for this Meier & Frank exhibit.

Multi-Generational Jewish Department Stores of the West

Neiman-Marcus of Dallas, Texas

Hamburger’s Department Store of Los Angeles, California

Gump’s of San Francisco, California

Meier & Frank of Portland, Oregon

Auerbach’s of Salt Lake City, Utah

Goldwater’s of Phoenix, Arizona

May Co. of St. Louis, Missouri