WIDMAYER, CHARLES HENRY, ex-Mayor of Jacksonville, Ill., and President of the Jacksonville Meat Company, was born in Wurtemberg, Germany, March 4, 1841, a son of Jacob and Frederica (Hoffstetter) Widmayer, natives of Wurtemberg, where the former was born in 1811, and the latter, in 1812. By occupation his father was a blacksmith. The family came to the United States in 1854, and settled in Newark, N. J., whence they soon moved to Niagara Falls. There Jacob Widmayer died during the year of his arrival. His widow became the wife of Anton Muth.
The subject of this sketch received his early mental training in the public schools of Germany, and on coming to America acquired a knowledge of the English language. At Niagara Falls he learned the trade of a butcher, and followed it in Chicago from the fall of 1857 until the spring of 1862. In the latter year he went to Omaha, Neb., with the intention of hauling freight between that point and Denver, Colo., but the outbreak of the Salmon River excitement changed his plans, and he enlisted in Capt. M. Crawford's company of Government emigrant escorts, destined for Walla Walla, Ore. He received his discharge, however, at Auburn, in that State, and there worked at his trade for about four months, going thence to Pioneer City, Idaho. At the latter place he formed a partnership in the meat business with Charles Burkhalter, and was quite successful. When the Wind River gold excitement broke out, however, he went to Montana, where he prospected for gold until the spring of 1863. This proving a failure, he located at Nevada City, and, in partnership with George Beringer, there conducted a meat business. This cooperation continued until Mr. Widmayer's leg was broken by a Texas steer. On recovering from the injury, he again applied himself to prospecting in Montana, near the site of the present city of Helena, which was founded five days after he reached the spot. The Pioneer City partnership had continued in the meantime, and Mr. Widmayer returned to that point and purchased his partner's interest in the business. He soon became dissatisfied, however, sold the concern in 1864, and started for Chicago, sailing from Victoria, B. C., via San Francisco and Panama, to New York. After remaining a short time in Chicago, he went to Jacksonville, Ill., reaching that city April 18, 1865. In that year he formed a partnership in the retail meat business with Leopold Wiegand, under the firm name of Wiegand & Company. This venture met with great success, and the firm continued until 1882, when Mr. Wiegand died. His widow then assumed his interest in the concern, and the business was conducted with her as a silent partner, until Mr. Widmayer bought her interest, and admitted his son, William F. Widmayer, as a partner, under the firm style of Widmayer & Son. Meanwhile, in 1879-1880, Mr. Widmayer, as a member of the firm of Wiegand, Widmayer & Bryant, had opened another establishment in the old Nealy packing house, in the eastern portion of the city, and there, in 1889, erected a large and thoroughly equipped plant. In 1892 this was destroyed by fire, entailing a heavy loss. Mr. Widmayer, however, immediately rebuilt the structure which is the one now owned by the Jacksonville Meat Company. The retail business in connection with William F. Widmayer continued until 1895, when the latter sold out to his father, who conducted the concern alone until 1898. In that year, together with the packing house, he disposed of it to the Jacksonville Meat Company, in which he became a stockholder, and is now its President.
On August 13, 1865, C. H. Widmayer was married to Louisa A. Ream, of Hampshire, Kane County, Ill., a daughter of Levi and Magdalena (Schumacker) Ream, of German descent. From this union have resulted eight children, as follows: Ida, born in 1866, wife of Mont N. Ross, of Las Vegas, N. M.; Minnie, who died in 1867; William F., of Jacksonville, Ill., born in 1869; Lydia M., born in 1871, wife of W. C. Osborne, of Jacksonville; Emma, born in 1873, wife of Frank O. Smith, of Dayton, Ohio; Carl, who was born in 1875 and died in 1883; Bertha, born in 1879, wife of Herman Voges, of Springfield, Ohio; and Ernest, who was born in 1877, and died in 1894.
Mr. Widmayer is a Democrat, and formerly took an active part in political affairs. Beginning in 1876 he served four terms as Alderman from the First Ward of Jacksonville. In 1882 he was elected Mayor of that city, and during his incumbency the present fine system of brick pavement was inaugurated. His administration was signally successful, and in 1895 he was again elected to the mayoralty. During this term of service, when all the city water supply was exhausted, the artesian wells were sunk, which now form the source of the general supply. Both of his administrations were noteworthy for public improvements and economical management. In 1898 Mr. Widmayer was elected Sheriff of Morgan County, and served in this capacity for four years. At the expiration of his term, he withdrew from active politics and devoted his attention exclusively to his business affairs.
Religiously, Mr. Widmayer has long been a zealous and consistent member of the Salem Evangelical Congregational Lutheran Church, in which he has officiated as Elder, and President of the Board of Trustees, since 1877. He is noted for his charitable spirit, and has contributed liberally to various benevolent organizations. Mr. Widmayer has always maintained a high prominence in business and financial circles in Jacksonville, and is regarded as one of the foremost citizens of Morgan County.