I. H. Kempner, millionaire investor and one of the originators of the commission form of city government, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the oldest son of eleven children of Elizabeth (Seinsheimer) and Harris Kempner. His father had emigrated from Poland, worked as a day laborer in New York, and eventually gone into the cotton warehouse business in Galveston. Kempner attended Washington and Lee University in Virginia until his father's death in 1894 forced him to drop out at age twenty-one and take over the family enterprises. He and his brother Daniel expanded the Kempner cotton business and branched out into real estate speculation. Kempner was elected a director of the Galveston Cotton Exchange and served continuously as either director, president, or vice president of that organization for nearly fifty years. He served as Galveston finance commissioner from 1901 to 1915 and as mayor from 1917 to 1919. In 1906 he and W. T. Eldridge acquired a 12,000-acre sugar mill, plantation, and refinery in Sugar Land. They operated under various names from that time, continually expanding their control over the sugar-refining industry, until they held a virtual monopoly by the 1930s. After Eldridge's death in 1932 the Kempners consolidated this venture under family ownership and the name Imperial Sugar Company. Kempner and his youngest brother, Stanley, also took over the Texas Prudential Insurance Company. The brothers were active in banking and held a controlling interest in United States National Bank in Galveston, where Lee Kempner was CEO. In 1902 Kempner married Henrietta Blum; they had five children. Kempner died on August 1, 1967, in Galveston and was buried in the Hebrew Benevolent Society Cemetery there.
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Isaac H. Kempner, H. Kempner: The First One Hundred Years, Texas Gulf Coast Historical Association Publication Series 2.1 (March 1958). Natalie Ornish, Pioneer Jewish Texans (Dallas: Texas Heritage, 1989). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Kempner, Isaac Herbert,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 21, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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