William Thornton Kemper Sr. (November 3, 1866 – January 19, 1938) was the patriarch of the Missouri Kemper family, which developed both Commerce Bancshares and United Missouri Bank to become a major banking family in the Midwest. He also founded the Kemper Grain Company and the Kemper Loan and Investment Company. He was treasurer of the Kansas City Commercial Club, a club made of local businessmen to promote Kansas City's growth.
Life and career
Kemper was born in Gallatin, Missouri, the son of Sarah Ann (née Paxton) and James Madison Kemper. He swept floors in St. Joseph, Missouri, at the shoe store of his father. One of his accounts was with the Valley Falls, Kansas, firm that his future father-in-law Rufus Henry Crosby owned. He married Charlotte Crosby in 1890 and moved to Kansas City, Missouri in 1893.
He became president of Commerce Bank in 1903. In 1913 he sold Commerce Bank shares at a price of $220 a share and bought controlling interest in City Center Bank (which was to become UMB Bank). Kemper was to buy back the original Commerce Bank at $86/share.
His son James M. Kemper became president of Commerce Bank, while R. Crosby Kemper became president of City Center.
Railroads and stocks
Kemper’s good fortune was not confined to banking. After being appointed receiver for the bankrupt assets of the Kansas City, Mexico & Orient Railroad, Kemper was awarded 15,000 shares for his duties. Oil was discovered along the railroad's right-of-way. Kemper would make the biggest portion of his fortune by selling these assets to the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, and converting his shares into Santa Fe stock.
Association with Harry Truman
Kemper's history was intertwined with that of Harry S. Truman. Truman's father, John Anderson Truman, traded grain commodities futures alongside Kemper until John Truman lost his fortune. John took Harry, then a teenager, to the local Democratic functions in Kansas City where Kemper was also in attendance. Kemper arranged for Truman to be a page at the 1900 Democratic National Convention in Kansas City. As a young man Harry would go to work in the National Bank of Commerce, 1903–1905, where Kemper was a director. In 1934 during Truman's first run for the United States Senate, Kemper bought the assets of the failed Continental National Bank which included the mortgage on Truman's failed haberdashery and in turn allowed Truman to retire it for $1,000 (while at the same time also contributing $1,000 to Truman's campaign).