KEMPNER, HARRIS (1837–1894), U.S. financier. Kempner, who was born in Russia, emigrated to the United States at the age of 17. He worked for two years in New York City and then moved to Cold Springs, Texas (1856), where he opened a general store. After fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War, Kempner returned to his Texas store. He moved to Galveston in 1870 and opened a wholesale grocery business that soon became the largest in the South. This business provided Kempner with the initial capital to move into the railroad, commodities, and banking fields. He provided funds for the building of the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe Railroad, and led the fight that resulted in the line's subsequent merger with the Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. In 1885 Kempner became president of the Island City (Texas) Savings Bank. He soon became a major figure in Texas banking, controlling several big Texas banks. The cotton brokerage firm which Kempner founded in Galveston in 1886, with offices in major European capitals, soon became one of the biggest in the South.
His eldest son, isaac herbert kempner (1873–1967), was a businessman, banker, and public servant. An early advocate of the commission form of city government, Kempner served as Galveston city treasurer (1899), city finance commissioner (1901–15), and mayor (1917–19).