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William T. Kemper, Sr.

Biography of William T. Kemper, Sr., 1865 - 1938. President of the Commerce Trust Company.

Author: Wilda Sandy ,
Collection Info: Biographies,
Date: 1996

Subjects: Commerce Bank, Kemper, William T., Sr., Commerce Trust Company,
Item Type: Biography
Item ID: 34915

Full Text:

William Thornton Kemper, Sr. began his career at age 14 on the business end of a broom. He swept floors in the St. Joseph, Missouri shoe store of his father. Years later, his family fortune would become one of Kansas City's largest. 

Kemper was born in Gallatin, Missouri November 3, 1866. In good time he went from shoe store janitor to shoe salesman. One of his accounts was the Valley Falls, Kansas firm of his future father-in-law, Rufus Henry Crosby. There he sold the account and the client's daughter as well. He and Charlotte Crosby were married in 1890. They moved to Kansas City three years later. 

Here the 26-year-old businessman went from business to investments to merchandising. From there he went into banking. Within ten years W.T. Kemper was president of the Commerce Trust Company empire. Ten years later he made his first killing. He sold the Commerce at the boom price of $220 a share, buying it back ten years afterwards at a depressed $86! 

Interestingly enough, one major source of Kemper's fortune did not derive from banking. The defunct Kansas City, Mexico & Orient Railroad was the shattered dream of Kansas Citian Arthur Stilwell. When that line went under, W.T. Kemper was appointed receiver. Stock (of dubious value) in that never-completed, disconnected route to the west coast of Mexico was awarded to Kemper. More than a majority of the reorganized Orient's stock was in Kemper's hands when oil was discovered along the road's tracks. Undreamed of value suddenly came to the line, and in 1928 Kemper sold out to the Santa Fe. His fortune was made. 

But for the most part, Kemper stuck to banking until his death January 19, 1938.

Written by Wilda Sandy

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