C. W. Klemm came to Bloomington in 1873 after having spent five years in Springfield, IL in the employ of the C.A. Gehrman Company, which was owned by a cousin. He was a German immigrant who arrived in this country alone and unable to speak English. At the age of approximately 22, Klemm had already served a 12-year apprenticeship in retail business in Potsdam, Germany.

Klemm’s first store was in a rented building at Center and Jefferson streets in downtown Bloomington. Klemm received financial backing from William Peake of New York to open his own store. Sometime later he purchased a building from A. Fitzwilliam, and that building was destroyed in the Great Bloomington Fire of June 19, 1900. After the fire Klemm built a new building and within seven months had reopened his store. The business was incorporated in 1917.

Klemm married Augustana Seibel in 1874. They had three children: Helen, Clara and Carl H. Augustana died in 1886 and Klemm married Emilia Bender of Peoria. They had one child, Julius. Carl, Julius and Klemm’s sons in law, Charles Agle and E. Howard, were all officers of the corporation. Klemm’s manufactured Jumbo Jake overalls in Bloomington. According to one advertisement, Klemm’s had a buying department in New York City. George H. Miller designed and built a three story addition to a building on Center Street between Monroe and Jefferson, where the Jumbo Jakes were manufactured by over 80 seamstresses.

The Klemm’s department store continued in operation for over 100 years. It last appeared in the Bloomington Normal City Directory in 1981.