The Cyclopædia of American Biography/Kiser, John William

The Cyclopædia of American Biography  (1918) 
James E. Homans, editor
Kiser, John William

KISER, John William, capitalist and manufacturer, was born at St. Paris, Ohio, 20 June, 1857, the son of George Riley and Margaret Ellen (McVey) Kiser. His father was a farmer and stock raiser, and accumulated over 1,000 acres of rich farm lands before his death. After his preparatory education at the grammar and high schools of St. Paris, he entered Wittenburg College at Springfield, Ohio, where he was graduated B.A., in 1884, with the highest honors. After leaving college, he had planned to pursue the study of law, but conditions made this impossible, and in 1884 he accepted a position with O. S. Kelly Company, large manufacturers, of Springfield, Ohio, as traveling collector and adjuster of litigated claims. In 1889 he resigned this position and went to Chicago, Ill., became identified with the Chicago Sewing Machine Company, subsequently becoming its manager. Mr. Kiser was practically without funds when arriving in Chicago, but with the energy of a young farmer and the brains of a captain of industry, he took advantage of the opportunities that confronted him and through untiring efforts, within a few years, he had accumulated a large fortune. Out of the sewing-machine company was evolved the Monarch Cycle Manufacturing Company, which was organized by Mr. Kiser in 1892 with a capitalization of $500,000. He was the president and majority stockholder. He seized the wonderful opportunity offered by the bicycle and made this concern one of the strongest in the field. Cycling in the United States began its career in 1876 with a small display of foreign bicycles at the Centennial Exhibition, and the riding of two or three men who brought over bicycles from abroad. In the course of a year some little interest was aroused in the new vehicle, which had become quite popular abroad, and an agency in Baltimore, Timms and Company, imported a number of wheels. In 1877 an eminent young lawyer of Boston began to seek his lost health on one of the steel and rubber steeds, and he became the pioneer of the modern bicycle in Massachusetts. Other machines were at once wanted, and in November, 1877, a commodious cycle-riding school was opened at 22 Pearl Street, Boston, giving an immediate and prosperous impetus to the new recreation. The first bicycle club in this country was established in Boston in February, 1878. It was called the Boston Bicycle Club, and its secretary was Frank W. Weston, who also was editor of the first publication devoted to the wheel, “The American Bicycling Journal,” of Boston. In January, 1878, the Pope Manufacturing Company, with Col. Albert A. Pope, president, began the manufacture of bicycles in Boston, and soon many other firms devoted themselves to the then phenomenally growing industry. The question of good roads soon took on more importance than ever before, and in 1887 the subject was taken up vigorously by a few public-spirited men, John W. Kiser among them, and became a burning topic with the already influential organization — the League of American Wheelmen. Between the years of 1883 and 1887 were hold the first great American racing tournaments, in Hartford, Conn., and Springfield, Mass., respectively. They attracted wheelmen from all over the United States, besides a number of foreign riders. Other tournaments have been held from time to time, and interest in them has always been maintained, even in face of the avalanche of motor cars which in the twentieth century occupy the roads everywhere. When it is remembered that, in one form or another, mechanically propelled vehicles of various kinds may be traced back to 1649, it is not to be wondered at that the inventive genius of man working on the problem for 250 years and more should at last have produced a machine as nearly perfect as anything of that kind could be. Yet as late as 1869 a bicycle with the painfully suggestive name of a “bone-shaker” invented in France was the best that had been accomplished up to that time, while the “ordinary” or “high” bicycle, consisting of one very large wheel in front — over which sat the venturesome rider — and a very small one behind, was a common object on American roads in 1885. This machine was possible for young and active men and even they were likely to take a “header” when the wheel struck some unexpected obstruction in the road. It was now that Mr. Kiser and other manufacturers set themselves seriously to devise a bicycle that should be convenient, comfortable, and safe, for women as well as for men. The result was the low, “safety” type which has never been materially altered since first it came upon the market. With its original steel frame, spring saddle and pneumatic tires, it supplies all the demands of cyclists, both for business and pleasure, and the only wonder is that it was not invented long before. In 1899 Mr. Kiser sold the Monarch Cycle Manufacturing Company to the “Bicycle Trust,” and in so doing displayed that fine judgment which has crowned all his business ventures with such phenomenal success, for very shortly the crash came. He saw that the automobile would soon succeed the bicycle in popular esteem and so conserved his resources at the outset. In 1902 he became identified with the Phœnix Horse Shoe Company, becoming its president in 1907. It is the largest company of its kind in the world. The Phoenix Company had already been organized by Charles W. Miller and had a plant at Poughkeepsie, N. Y. On Mr. Miller's retirement he was succeeded by his son, Elishua Miller. When Mr. Riser entered the company, a second plant was built at Joliet, Ill. The company is now capitalized at $3,000,000 and he held practically all the stock. While attaining such a marked success in the business world, Mr. Kiser did not forget the town in which he was born, but went to St. Paris often, and there he built a beautiful summer home. He did many other things that have made St. Paris rejoice that the boy who went forth from that town in search of his fortune succeeded so well. One of his favorite recreations was farming. As he bought many farms in Ohio, his friends laughingly said that he aspired to own all of Ohio. At any rate his holdings of land in some of the Ohio counties were so great as to cause him to be described as the “owner of counties.” The foundation on which rests a people's personal rights and liberties is that law should be supreme, giving to every individual perfect justice and protection from unjust oppression. This necessarily applies to religion, business, and politics. Thus declared our American forefathers, and it is the making and upholding of such a document that America has become typical of human endeavor and a glorious freedom. Thus men of initiative, men of intellect and a high sense of justice and responsibility, have been attracted to the various business professions, where, without fear of clan or caste, they could work out their own salvation in the industrial world. The great metropolis of Chicago ofliers a wide field for men of push and perseverance, and a unique example among those who had overcome and conquered insurmountable business obstacles was John W. Kiser, Sr., whose name today, in the Middle West, is a synonym for honest effort, fair play, and whole-hearted loyalty. To the student of history, Mr. Kiser's career is interesting to follow. Coming to Chicago, virtually penniless, through close application to business and many self-sacrifices, he rose to the top round of business success and ranked as one of the representative business men of the twentieth century. He was a tireless worker and never permitted amusements or social affairs to interfere with his many responsibilities. He was a typical, energetic, self-made business man of highest ability, and has set a wonderful example to young men of the present generation, thus demonstrating that through self-privations, perseverance and stick-to-itiveness one can succeed and be able to overcome almost any business difficulty. Mr. Kiser had an unusual personality and his characteristics were strongly marked. He won the instant respect of all with whom he came in contact and the lasting friendship of those with whom he was frequently thrown. His rugged honesty and his loyalty in every relation in life were traits that stood out boldly. One of his most conspicuous traits of character was affability. If he ever employed a hand of iron, it was always incased in a velvet glove. Unusually quick in reaching decisions, even upon most vital questions, his manner was invariably courteous, one might say almost gentle. His mind seemed to be able to accomplish its tasks without generating undue heat, and he was a notable example of practical business efficiency, totally devoid of brusqueness. In 1902 Mr. Kiser built a beautiful home at 3357 Michigan Avenue, Chicago, where he resided until 1912 when he made his home in New York City. When in Chicago he resided temporarily at the Blackstone Hotel, but his permanent home after 1912 was maintained at the Ritz Carlton Apartments in New York City. He was a member of the Union League, Chicago Athletic, Mid-Day, Glen View, South Shore Country, the Historical Society, and the Chicago Golf Clubs of Chicago; the Springfield Country Club of Springfield, Ohio; the Automobile Club of America; the Blinkbrook Country Club and the Ohio Society, both of New York City. He was a director in the First National Bank, First Trust and Savings Bank, and the Miehle Printing Company, all of Chicago. Politically he was an independent Democrat His favorite recreations are golf, yachting, and tennis. He was married to Miss Thirza Wilhelmina Furrow, of St. Paris, Ohio, 18 Sept., 1884, and two children were born of this marriage: Furrow John Riser (b. 1895; d. 1902) and John William Kiser, Jr. (Yale 1915). John William Kiser, Jr., succeeds his father and will no doubt carry out the same policies which have made the business such a leading factor in its special line. Although young and just out of college, he has shown great business capacity and will in all probability follow the lines of success laid out by his father.

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