In the Kaiser family tree, the most common occupation is a tinsmith. At least three generations worked in the trade! Tinsmiths, later called sheet metal workers, worked with any kind of light metals, and typically repaired things like stoves, furnaces, roofing, gutters, and more. This post focuses on the Kaiser Brothers Sheet Metal business in DeKalb, Illinois. Kaiser Brothers was owned by my great-grandfather Glenn Kaiser and his brother Floyd. They operated a successful tinning and sheet metal business from about 1923-1935. This is a story of that local business!
Glenn and Floyd were the two youngest sons of a very large family. (Read about some of the family dynamics, and more about Floyd in this post.) Their father, Andrew Kaiser, was a tinsmith who likely learned his trade as a young man. When the family moved to DeKalb from Whiteside County, Illinois, Andrew brought his skills with him, and opened a shop at 622 East Lincoln Highway, which was at the far east end of the downtown area. (Read more about his experience as a tinner in an upcoming post!)
As his two youngest sons were growing up, they worked in their father’s shop, and were apprentices. They did any kind of sheet metal work, including stoves, gutters, and furnaces. During WWI, Glenn joined the Army and served overseas in Germany, while Floyd finished school and continued to help in his father’s shop. After the war, Glenn came home to help support his father’s shop. Andrew’s health began to deteriorate shortly afterward, and Glenn and Floyd gradually took on more responsibilities in the shop. When Andrew passed away in 1923, Glenn and Floyd were in business all on their own. They changed the name of their enterprise to Glen Kaiser & Co., and shortly afterward, Kaiser Brothers.
Under the brothers’ care, the business began to grow. The continued to operate their shop in their father’s location. They sold Coles Hot Blast Furnaces and repaired various sheet metal items. In the years that followed, they started placing weekly ads in the local newspaper, and ran various promotions to drum up business. Their efforts seem to be moderately successful. In 1924-1925, they moved their business to 510 East Lincoln Highway, which was closer to the downtown area and closer to their customers. In the summer of 1926, they purchased the frame building where their business was located, and they moved the structure to a lot at 624 Girard Street, just behind where their father’s shop was originally located. Their shop remained at that location for the rest of its life. Because they now owned the building and the property, they rented out parts of the building to other businesses to bring in extra income for their growing families. Shortly after prohibition ended in 1933, Glenn also opened a tavern in their building. (Read more about his tavern in an upcoming post!)
Kaiser Brothers would not continue when one of the brothers died. Floyd passed away suddenly in August 1935, leaving Glenn to the business on his own. Glenn quickly decided that he didn’t want to continue the business without his brother. He rented the business to another local craftsman by September 1935, just two weeks after Floyd’s death. The Kaisers’ tinning trade had lasted two generations, a move from Whiteside County to DeKalb County, several locations in DeKalb, the Great War, and the Great Depression, but it could not survive the loss of a brother.
- Kaiser family photos and documents, originals; Kaiser Family papers, privately held by Emily (Drake) Weil, Kingston, Ill.
- “A. Kaiser,” The Daily Chronicle, DeKalb, Ill., 16 Mar 1921, image copy (www.newspapers.com : accessed 13 Aug 2018), page 14; Newspapers.com World Collection.
- “Announcement,” The Daily Chronicle, DeKalb, Ill., 25 Oct 1923, image copy (www.newspapers.com : accessed 25 Aug 2018), page 5; Newspapers.com World Collection.
- “Two Brothers Operate Shop,” The Daily Chronicle, DeKalb, Ill., 26 Jan 1924, image copy (www.newspapers.com : accessed 5 May 2017), page 44; Newspapers.com World Collection.
- “Kaiser Brothers,” The Daily Chronicle, DeKalb, Ill., 20 Jul 1925, image copy (www.newspapers.com : accessed 5 Aug 2018), page 8; Newspapers.com World Collection.
- Emily (Drake) Weil, granddaughter of Glenn Kaiser, (Kingston, Illinois), interview by Eva Johnson, August 2018; notes of the interview privately held by interviewer, Kingston, Illinois, 2018.
- Mildred (Kaiser) Drake, daughter of Glenn Kaiser, (Kingston, Illinois), interview by Eva Weil, 2000; notes of the interview privately held by interviewer, Kingston, Illinois, 2018.
Read more posts about the Kaiser family: