Meyer was born at Gotha, Germany, and was educated as a merchant in Frankfurt am Main. He went to London in 1816, but returned to Germany in 1820 after business adventures and stock speculations fell through. Here he invested in enterprises like textile-trade (1820–24), mining industry and railways in the thirties and forties of the 19th century, but with limited results.
Meyer operated very successfully as a publisher, employing a system of serial subscription to publications, which was new at that time. To this end he founded a company, Bibliographisches Institut, in Gotha in 1826. It published several editions of the Bible, works of classical literature ("Miniatur-Bibliothek der deutschen Classiker", "Groschen-Bibliothek"), atlases, the world in pictures on steel engravings ("Meyers Universum", 1833–61, 17 volumes in 12 languages with 80,000 subscribers all over Europe), and an encyclopaedia, ("das Grosse Conversations-Lexikon für die gebildeten Stände"; see Meyers Konversations-Lexikon, 1839–55, 52 volumes). His company grew substantially, and in 1828 he moved it from Gotha to Hildburghausen, where he died thirty years later.