Kell, Frank (1859–1941)

By: J. W. Williams

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: February 1, 1995

Frank Kell, businessman, railroad financier, rancher, and Texana collector, the son of Francis Marian and Sara (Potter) Kell, was born in Clifton, Texas, on December 2, 1859. His education was often interrupted and came to an abrupt end when, at eighteen years of age, he got a job at a store in Clifton. Next he engaged in grain exportation at Galveston but soon returned to Clifton and entered the milling business. In 1885 Kell married Lula Kemp, sister of Joseph A. Kemp of Wichita Falls. In 1896 Kemp and Kell purchased the major interest in the Wichita Valley Milling Company, and the Kells moved to Wichita Falls. The name of the company was changed to Wichita Mill and Elevator Company, and Kell became manager. Business went forward, and, in spite of a destructive fire in 1900, the mill was increased first to 600 and soon to 1,000 barrels daily capacity.

In 1905, with W. O. Anderson, Kell purchased a mill in Vernon and in the same year began his career as railroad financier. At one time or another he either owned or was a partner in six roads: the Wichita Falls and Northwestern, the Wichita Falls and Southern, the Wichita Falls Railway, the Clinton and Oklahoma Western, the San Antonio, Uvalde and Gulf, and the Missouri and North Arkansas-a total of more than 1,300 miles of track. The first two of these, which connected Wichita Falls with areas that produced wheat and coal, were built by Kemp and Kell soon after 1905 and sold to the Missouri, Kansas and Texas in 1911.

Milling came first with Kell. The Wichita Mill and Elevator Company was increased to 3,500 barrels daily capacity with two million bushels of storage space in 1917, and Kell became sole owner the following year. At various times plants were added at Waco, Amarillo, Perry, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma City, besides a hundred small-town elevators. This vast business was sold to General Mills in 1928 for cash and stock in that corporation. Kell continued to hold extensive investments in cattle, flour milling, and oil and cottonseed oil refining and until his death owned and skillfully managed 565 miles of railroad.

He was a director of the Eleventh District Federal Reserve Bank from 1914 to 1927, chairman of the feed and food division of the Texas Advisory Council during World War I, chairman of the milling division of Texas and New Mexico under Herbert Hoover as national food administrator, and director in the United States Chamber of Commerce in 1920. As a patron of southwestern history and literature, he donated rare books to the University of Texas library. In 1930 he was given the chamber of commerce award as outstanding philanthropist of his home community. His investments and efforts, which helped to make deep oil a basic part of local economy, his early railroad construction, and his continued leadership for town betterment caused him to rank as one of the two leading builders of Wichita Falls. He died on September 17, 1941, and was buried in Riverside Cemetery, Wichita Falls.

Jonnie R. Morgan, The History of Wichita Falls (Wichita Falls, 1931; rpt., Wichita Falls: Nortex, 1971). S. G. Reed, A History of the Texas Railroads (Houston: St. Clair, 1941; rpt., New York: Arno, 1981). J. N. Williams, "Frank Kell," West Texas Historical Association Year Book 17 (1941).

  • Agriculture
  • Merchants

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

J. W. Williams, “Kell, Frank,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 23, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1995