COBUS J. KEISER, whose name is inseparably interwoven with the annals of Mount Olive, has done more for the upbuilding and development of the town than any other individual and has long been numbered among the most prominent citizens of Macoupin county. His birth occurred in Hanover, Germany, on the 4th of September, 1841, his parents being John J. and Geske (Heien) Keiser, who were born, reared and married at that place. In 1854 they crossed the Atlantic to the United States with their children, landing in New Orleans and coming up the Mississippi river to Alton, Illinois. They spent the succeeding winter in Madison county, the tract being still in its primitive condition. The demise of John J. Keiser occurred soon afterward, on the 6th of December, 1855. His widow, surviving him for many years, passed away in 1889 while making her home with her daughter Anna. They were both active and consistent members of the Evangelical Lutheran church and were held in high esteem by all who knew them.
Cobus J. Keiser supplemented his preliminary education, obtained in the public schools, by a course of study in the State University. Having thus fitted himself for the practical and responsible duties of life, he entered upon his business career. Mount Olive, one of the busiest little commercial marts in this section of the country, owes its growth largely to the enterprise and energy of Mr. Keiser, who in 1868 established a small mercantile house in association with his father-in-law, J. C. Niemann. The following spring they enlarged their store and increased their stock to include a general line of merchandise. That was the beginning of the present extensive firm known as Niemann & Keiser, which occupies several large storerooms and handles practically every line of merchandise except drugs and lumber. When the Wabash Railroad was built through Mount Olive in 1870, Mr. Keiser assumed control of all the business at this point and was thus connected with the road until 1877, when more important interests caused his resignation. He gave a decided impetus to the growth of the town when he organized the Mount Olive Coal Company and opened up a coal shaft. He became one of the most extensive stockholders of the concern and was made superintendent and active business manager, continuing as such for some years. A shaft was sunk four hundred feet to a rich vein of coal seven feet thick, and the output was about sixty car loads a day. A second shaft was completed in 1877. After some years, owing to a lack of energy on the part of some fo the directors, the business was transferred to the Consolidated Coal Company of St. Louis. The transfer, however, was much against Mr. Keiser's wishes.
Recognizing the need of a flour mill and anxious to promote industrial activity, Mr. Keiser and Henry Prange erected in 1876 the large Anchor Mills which have proven of such great value in the upbuilding of the town. In 1881, after some years of successful operation, the name of the firm was changed to Keiser Brothers, A. J. Keiser succeeding Mr. Prange. They do an extensive foreign as well as domestic business. The continued growth of the business of the mercantile firm of Keiser, Niemann & Company awoke the partners to the need of a bank. Accordingly, in 1882, C. J. Keiser established and opened a bank in his large brick building at the corner of Main and Poplar streets. It is a private bank conducted under the name of C. J. Keiser & Company, and is supplied with all the appliances and appointments necessary for carrying on a general banking business, including a fine vault and burglar-proof safe for the accommodation and safety of depositors. C. J. Keiser is the president and general manager of the institution, while his son, Edward A. W. Keiser, acts as cashier.
Mr. Keiser has also been instrumental in securing excellent railroad facilities for Mount Olive. It was largely due to his efforts that a branch of the Peoria & St. Louis Railroad was built from Mount Olive to Alhambra, Illinois, where it connects with the Clover Leaf, running into St. Louis. The undertaking incurred large expenditures of time and money and its successful completion indicates the business ability and energy which have marked the career of Mr. Keiser through life. When the Jackson & Southeastern Railway Company decided to run a branch through Mount Olive they found Mr. Keiser ready to give financial aid. He donated valuable lots for depot purposes and in other ways assisted in establishing the road. The lots on which the city hall and public library are located where his gifts to the city.
On the 9th of November, 1867, Mr. Keiser was untied in marriage to Miss Mary C. Niemann, a daughter of John C. Niemann. Their union was blessed with nine children, of whom the following still survive: Pauline, Amanda, Adolph H., Edward A. W. an Bertha. Four died in infancy. The children have enjoyed excellent educational advantages and have also received financial assistance from their parents.
In politics Mr. Keiser is a republican and he has long been a leader in the local ranks of his party. For seventeen years he served as postmaster of Mount Olive and for a number of years acted as president of the town board. In 1883, when the new township was formed, he was elected its first supervisor, holding the office until 1891 and doing much to reduce the enormous courthouse debt during that period. Both he and his wife are devoted and consistent members of the Lutheran church, exemplifying its teachings in their daily lives. Mr. Keiser acted as superintendent of the Sunday school for a time and served the church in one official capacity or another for a number of years. Generous and liberal in disposition, no worthy cause or needy individual seeks his aid in vain. When was proposed the erection of the present handsome Lutheran church, which is the finest edifice in the city and one of the largest in the county, he donated the lots and three thousand dollars in money.
The specific and distinctive office of biography is not to give voice to a man's modest estimate of himself and his accomplishments but rather to leave the perpetual record establishing his character by the consensus of opinion on the part of his fellow men. Throughout Macoupin county Mr. Keiser is spoken of in terms of admiration and respect. His life has been so varied in its activity, so honorable in its purposes, so far reaching and beneficial in its effects, that it has become an integral part of the history of the county and has also left an impress upon the annals of the state. He has exerted an immeasurable influence on the city of his residence; in business life as a financier and promoter of extensive industrial and commercial enterprises; in social circles by reason of a charming personality and unfeigned cordiality; in politics by reason of his public spirit and devotion to the general good as well as his comprehensive understanding of the questions affecting state and national welfare; and in those departments of activity which ameliorate hard conditions of life for the unfortunate by his benevolence and his liberality.