Kaiser Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Kaiser Meaning
Kaiser surname derived from the old High German keiser,
meaning “emperor,” which itself came
from the Latin imperial title Caesar.
The medieval surname was probably occupational, either for a
servant in
the Emperor’s household or for an actor who played the part of an
Emperor. It could also have been a
nickname for a
person with an imperious manner! Indeed der Kaiser has been the nickname of
Franz Beckenbauer, the great player, coach and manager of the German
The Kaiser spelling is most common in south Germany and also appears in
Austria and Switzerland. Kayser crops up
in Luxemburg primarily. De Keyser is the
Flemish version, mostly found in Belgium; while Keizer is the Dutch
today. The main American spellings have
been Kaiser,
Kiser, Keyser, and

Kaiser Resources on

Kaiser Ancestry

number some 85,000 in Germany today, with a further 15,000
in Austria and Switzerland. There are
6,000 de Keysers in Belgium and another 6,000 Keizers in

England. Neither Kaiser nor its
variant names have
been at all common in England (although one Keyser did emigrate from
to America in the 17th century).

A Belgian from Ghent, Polydore de Keyser, made his mark on
Victorian London. He had arrived in
London in the 1840’s and soon founded the Royal Hotel that was to
famous. He ran it until 1887.
At that time he was knighted and elected Lord
Mayor of London, the first Catholic to hold that honor since the
Reformation. Jenny Kaiser was a
well-known Yiddish actress in London in the early 1900’s.

The Keyser and Kiser
names appeared first in America, followed by Kaiser.

Keysers. George Keyser who came to Lynn, Massachusetts
in 1638 was in fact from England. He and
his son John were tanners. Later the
name became Kezar and a branch moved north to New Hampshire. However, the main Keyser arrivals in America
were of Dutch or German extraction.

from a Dutch Mennonite
family in Amsterdam, came to Germantown in Pennsylvania in 1688 at the
invitation of William Penn.

6205 on Main Street was built by Dirck Keyser
in 1738. There is a tradition that this
was the first two-story house erected in Germantown.
‘DK 1738’ was cut in the stones on the front
of the house alongside one of the windows.”

His descendants remained in
Germantown for many generations. One
branch settled in Baltimore where William Keyser was an executive with
Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in the 19th century.
Peter Keyser was director of the Philadelphia
Eye and Ear Infirmary in the 1870’s.
Charles Keyser’s 1888 book The
Keyser Family
recounted the history

Keyser arrived in Philadelphia from Wurttemberg
in Germany in 1749. He came as a soldier
to fight for the British in the French and Indian wars.
Later he made his home at the mouth of the
Hawkshull river in Shenandoah county, Virginia.
He died there in 1774.

“In 1876 his grave was
opened by Charles Keyser, one of his grandsons, and other Keyser
relatives. The skull, teeth and hair
were found to be in a wonderful state of preservation after having been
102 years.”

Meanwhile Johannes Keyser from Bavaria had made his way
to the
Schoharie valley
New York around the year 1710. These
Keysers were among the early settlers of what became a German community
there. Indeed, Maria Keyser married its
first German
minister, the Rev. Peter Sommer, who arrived there in 1743. On the male side there were three generations
of Barent Keysers. Abraham Keyser was the
sheriff of Schoharie county from 1815 to 1819.

Another Keyser line seems to have
begun with Joseph Keyser, a farmer at Alexandria in New Hampshire in
the early
1800’s. His descendant Frank Ray Keyser
Sr. moved from
New Hampshire to Vermont in the 1920’s and became its Supreme Court
Justice. F. Ray Keyser Jr. was Governor
of Vermont in 1961 and Ray Sr. had the unique experience of
administering the oath of
office to his son. Ray Sr. held cases
until he was 90 and lived to be 102.

Kisers. Many of the Kiser families
in America trace
their ancestry back to Michael and Mary Kiser from Germany who were
married in
Bucks county, Pennsylvania in the 1750’s.
Thirty years later they moved to the Shenandoah valley in
Virginia. Many of their descendants
remained in
Rockingham county, Virginia. Valentine
Kiser migrated to Tennessee and his descendants were to be found in
Missouri and Arkansas. The number of
these Kisers today are thought to be in excess of 25,000.

Kaisers. Kaisers did
not really start to appear in America
until the 1840’s. They came from Germany
and Switzerland mainly and usually headed for the Midwest.
Among their number were:

  • Herman
    and Elizabeth Kaiser from Hanover in
    Germany, arriving in the late 1840’s, who made their home in Clayton
  • Gerhard
    and Anna Kaiser who left
    the home near Koln in Germany in 1851 for Ohio before finally settling
    Washington county, Wisconsin.
  • Eckhardt
    Kaiser from Hesse in Germany who came to Walton, Cass county, Indiana
    in 1854
    and started the Kaiser farm there. His
    great grandson Russell Kaiser was the town treasurer from 1920 to
  • Andreas Kaiser from the Rhine
    Palatine in Germany who came with his family around 1856. They
    made their home in Marathon county,
    Wisconsin. He died there in 1897 at the ripe age of
  • and Lucien Kaiser
    who arrived
    with his
    parents from Switzerland in 1869 to farm in northern Michigan.

Kaiser from Hesse in Germany
arrived in 1872 and made his home in upstate New York.
He was a shoemaker. His son Henry
J. Kaiser
, born ten years later, headed to the West Coast in
where he
started a construction company. His
business began to boom in the 1930’s when his firm was one of the prime
contractors for the giant dams that were being built there. However, he is best remembered as the
shipbuilder of World War Two where his shipyard in Richmond, California
out Liberty ships in record time.

Kaiser in America can be Jewish. An early
example was Alois Kaiser from
Hungary who came to Baltimore in 1866 where he was appointed the cantor
at the
Oheb Shalom congregation. Leon Kaiser,
born in Brooklyn in 1884, was a highly esteemed New York educator after
Kaiser Park in Brooklyn was named. And
Herman Kaiser fled from the Nazis in Germany in 1935 and made his home
Oklahoma. His son George Kaiser grew rich
oil and banking and is one of the world’s biggest philanthropists today.

The Kaiser name in Nova Scotia dates from the 1750’s when Johann
Kaiser came to Lunenburg with his family from Hesse in Germany as one
of its
early settlers. Kaiser, sometimes Keizer
and sometimes other spellings, has remained part of the town since that
time. A descendant Sherry-Anne Comeau
has compiled a book of the family history.


Kaiser Miscellany

Kaiser, Kiser, Keyser, and Kayser in America.  The principal American spellings have been Kaiser, Kiser, Keyser,
and Kayser.  The household numbers today
are approximately:

  • Kaiser
    – 15,000, with a high concentration in Midwest states
    such as Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
  • Kiser
    – 9,000, with the largest
    numbers today in North Carolina.
  • Keyser
    – 4,000, with the largest numbers today
    in Pennsylvania.
    (these were among the
    earliest arrivals, including some from Holland and England).
  • and
    Kayser – around 2,000, the smallest
    contingent with the highest numbers in Ohio and Iowa.

Dirck Keyser, Early Settler in Germantown, Pennsy;lvania.  The following words were attributed to Dirck Keyser, an early settler in the Germantown community in Pennsylvania.

“I have lived a life of great change.  Our Dutch family of
Keyser, descended from our Bavarian line, was first represented in
Amsterdam by
my grandfather, Gerrit Keyser.   I was destined to lead our
family to
the new country where I became the founder of the Keyser family in

grandfather on my mother’s side was a Mennonite minister.  I
too am a
Menist or Mennonite.

I knew William Penn, founder of
Pennsylvania.  Penn visited Germany and Holland to invite all
to join
him in his new settlement in America and to enjoy free religious
My sons Dirck and Pieter Dirck and my daughter Johanna joined me and
Amsterdam Mennonites in our 1688 emigration to Germantown,

Holland I was a manufacturer and dealer in silks and had
enjoyed being a man of some prominence.  Our strong work
contributed to making our new hometown become a prosperous center of
trade, a
most unusual distinction for a rural town near Philadelphia.”

Dirck Keyser was born in Holland in 1635 and
died in Germantown in 1714.  During his
time in Germantown he was said to have always worn a silk coat,
something which
his neighbors initially found as too showy.

The Keysers in the Schoharie Valley.  In the
1750’s two German families – the Keysers and the Schaeffers – made a
settlement at Keyser Kill, now called Breakabeen, where the Breakabeen
fed into the Schoharie river.  Barent
Keyser built a small grist mill there around 1765.

family being large,
he “worked out” by the month among the farmers of the valley.  He thereby managed to put away a few dollars
month with which in time he was able to be the owner of the farm.

labor began on the farm, he said that the woods around him abounded
deer.  During one winter, when the snow
was very deep, a neighbor killed over seventy deer with his ax.  Bears were also numerous and plagued the
farmers by killing their hogs and sheep.

Lucien Kaiser in Northern Michigan.  Lucien, born in Switzerland in 1852, had come with his parents Frederick and
Martha Kaiser when they had emigrated in America in 1869
They were among the first settlers of the
Elk Rapids township in Antrim county when it was still virgin country.  Their first task was to build a log cabin and
clear the land, making some money from the sale of the timber.  Lucien would frequently walk to Elk Rapids
for supplies which he would carry on his back, often bearing a load of
as much
as 150 pounds.

Lucien later secured his own tract of land in Milton township
and began clearing the land.  His first
major purchase was a yoke of oxen, for which he paid two hundred
dollars.  His homestead comprised 192 acres.  He grew crops and raised cattle there.   He had married in 1873 and his son
continued to farm on the land after Lucien’s death.

Henry J. Kaiser’s Upbringing.  Following their marriage in
1872, Franz and Mary Kaiser settled in Sprout Brook, New York where Frank as he became opened a cobbler’s
workshop.  After three daughters were
born, Mary gave birth to a son in 1882 who was given a Protestant
baptism two
years later with the name of Heinrich Kaiser.

are no indications from any
element of Henry Kaiser’s subsequent career that his German origins
were at all
important to him.  How early his family’s
assimilation was completed is underscored by the quick change of his
name, from Heinrich to Henry.  Although
it can no longer be dated precisely, it must have occurred well before
War One.

1943 Kaiser’s oldest sister recalled that in her childhood she never
ate a meal without saying a prayer, and as the first-born she often had
to lead
the benediction.  It was initially in
but soon in English.  Though his father
was Catholic, Henry Kaiser was raised in his mother’s Protestant faith
attended services at the local Methodist church.


Kaiser Names

  • Henry Kaiser was an industrialist known
    as the father of modern American shipbuilding. He established the Kaiser
    shipyards in Richmond, California which built the Liberty ships during World War Two.   
  • George Kaiser, the son of a Jewish businessman who fled the Nazis, developed his oil and banking business in Oklahoma. He became one of the richest men in America and is the third most generous in terms of philanthropy.

Select Kaiser Numbers Today

  • 30,000 in America (most numerous in Ohio)
  • 3,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Kaiser and Like Surnames 

The first wave of German immigration into America came in the early 1700’s from the Rhine Palatine and Switzerland.  They were fleeing religious persecution at home.  Most ended up in Pennsylvania, bringing their Mennonite church with them.  Some went to the Mohawk Valley in upstate New York.  Their Germanic names often changed under English rule to English-style names.  Thus Fischer became Fisher, Schneider Snyder, Hubner Hoover and so forth.

The reasons for immigration were different in the 19th century – in search of a better life, sometimes to avoid the draft.  They came from all German states and went not just to Pennsylvania but all over as the middle and west of the country was opening up.  And they brought German skills with them, notably beer-making.

Here are some of the notable German surnames in America that you can check out.




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