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Kelsey, Herbert Co.; Herbert Mfg. Co.; Kelsey Wheel Co.
McClure Kelsey & Co. 1887-1900; Kelsey-Herbert Co. 1902-1910; K. H. Wheel Co., 1909-1910; Herbert Mfg. Co., 1910-1917; Kelsey Wheel Co. 1910-1927; (also Kelsey Wheel Co., Body Div., aka Kelsey Auto Body Co.); Detroit, Michigan; Kelsey Wheel Co. 1910-1927; Kelsey Wheel Co., Body Div., (aka Kelsey Auto Body Co.), 1920-1923; Memphis,Tennessee
Associated Builders
Fox Bros. & Co.; Kelsey-Hayes Co.; Detroit, Michigan

The expression ‘deader than Kelsey’s nuts’, is most often attributed to disgraced US President Richard M. Nixon. As he used it, the President inferred that the subject of his ire was either deceased, defunct or at the very least, powerless.

However Nixon’s use of the term ‘Kelsey’s nuts’ differed substantially from its original 1920s-30s usage, ‘tighter than Kelsey’s nuts’, a reference to the proverbially secure attachment provided by the nuts and bolts included with the wheels manufactured by the Kelsey Wheel Company. Additional meanings included a person who was thrifty, stingy or mean and a rarely-used third variation ‘safe as Kelsey’s nuts’, made reference to the safety of a wheel attached by Kelsey’s hardware, eg., very safe.

Although the phrase his products inspired is rarely mentioned today, Kelsey’s OEM automobile wheels remain important to fans of early automobile enthusiasts, particularly of the Ford Motor Co. variety. However the fact that he was equally well-known in the early days of Detroit as a manufacturer of composite automobile bodies and sub-assemblies has escaped even the most knowledgeable automobile historians. In fact, his automobile body business predates his rise to prominence in the automobile wheel business by a couple of years, and at one point Kelsey and his associates controlled two other Detroit- and Windsor-based body constructors; Herbert Mfg. Co., and Fox Bros. & Co.

The driving force behind the aforementioned firms and phrases was Detroit-born John C. Kesley. Born in Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan on March 15, 1867 (1866?), (d. Jan. 21, 1927) he was the son of Frank and Jessie (Brobyn or Brabyn) Kelsey, natives respectively of the United States and England.

After a public education in the Detroit schools, Kelsey found a job with Cornwall, Price & Co., paper merchants and in 1881 took a job with Barnes Bros., a wholesale paper outfit. At the age of 20 (1887) he became associated with Albert V. McClure in the wholesale and retail hardwood lumber business, and soon after was made a partner in the firm under the style of McClure, Kelsey & Co., 520-528 Franklin St., Detroit. A third partner, Warren G, Vinton, was a well-known Detroit building contractor whose Vinton Company constructed a number of Detroit landmarks which include the Detroit Opera House, Whitney Theatre, St Paul’s Cathedral, Masonic Temple and YMCA.

Coincident with his partnership, Kelsey was united in marriage to Margarette Dallas, of Detroit on April 23, 1893, and to the blessed union was born two children, Dallas Sherrill (b. Sep. 13, 1905) and Virginia Elizabeth (b. Nov. 26, 1908) Kelsey.

Polk’s 1897 Detroit Directory:

“McClure, Kelsey & Co. (Albert V. McClure, John C. Kelsey, Warren G. Vinton special), hardwood lumber, 520-528 Franklin.”

In 1898, in collaboration with Warren G. Vinton’s son, G. Jay Vinton, Kelsey entered into a $25,000 partnership with George Davidson, establishing the Davidson Pipe & Novelty Company. Located in the Case building on Congress St., Detroit, the fledgling firm was destroyed by fire in 1899 after which it relocated to Larned St. and was reorganized as the United States Chemico-Wood Co.

The firm manufactured products out of exotic hardwoods as well as a composite resin, metal and wood fiber material perfected by George Davidson that resembled French horn, from which numerous articles were molded, which included mirrors, hair brushes, combs, toilet sets, smoking pipes and umbrella handles.

In 1901 businessman Henry J. Herbert purchased an interest in the firm which was subsequently reorganized in 1902 as the Kelsey, Herbert Company. Capitalized at $50,000, its officers were Henry J. Herbert, president; James S. Stevenson, vice-president; and John Kelsey, secretary and treasurer.

Henry J. Herbert was born in Sturgis, St. Joseph County, Michigan on February 28, 1867 to James C. and Eleanor S. (Smith) Herbert. After a public education he embarked upon the manufacture of ubrellas in Detroit, organizing the Detroit Umbrella Co. in 1890. He subsequently joined the firm of Clogg, Wright & Co., a well-established manufacturer of umbrellas located in New York City. In 1898 he returned to Detroit to marry Miss Emma Walker and shortly thereafter joined the US Chemico-Wood Co., becoming a partner just prior to its 1902 reoganization as the Kelsey-Herbert Co., becoming its president after the resignation of G. Jay Vinton in 1903. He als served as secretaryof the realted Detroit Bent Goods Co. and served as a director of Fox Bros. & Co.

In 1904 the Kelsey, Herbert Co. erected a 4-story brick, mortar and stone factory at 277-285 Monroe Ave., Detroit. In addition to an offsite satellite the firm maintained a pyrography* plant at 576 Kirby Ave., the firm occupying a total of 85,000 sq. ft. and employing over 300 hands.

(*Pyrography refers to decorating wood or other materials with burn marks resulting from the controlled application of a heated object, either by placing the object in a heated mold or by applying textures and designs using heated pokers, as in branding.)

The January 17, 1907 issue of Engineering News reported on a plant expansion project:

“DETROIT MICH. - The Kelsey, Herbert Co., 277-295 Monroe Ave., are having plans prepared for a factory for manufacture, of preparations to be 4 story, 100 x 50 ft. brick with Bedford limestone composition roof, steel window, freight elevators etc.”

A couple of days later (Jan. 21, 1907) Grand Rapids, Michigan resident Dell Ward applied for a patent on an ‘Attachment for Vehicle Wheels’ for which he received US Patent No. 849,031 on April 2, 1907. Dell’s patent for the unusual sprung wheel was assigned to himself, John C. Kelsey, Henry J. Herbert, Joseph R. Taylor and Wallace W. Johnson.

By 1908 Kelsey, Herbert Co.'s annual payroll exceeded $100,000 and so rapid was its growth it had been twice recapitalized; first to $100,000 and finally to $200,000. Charles W. Hardie manned the firm’s Manhattan sales office which was located at 621 Broadway, Room 415.

Factory inspections conducted by the Michigan Bureau of Labor and Industrial Statistics during the summer of 1907 list two separate Detroit-based firms with Kelsey Herbert in their name. Kelsey, Herbert & Co., Detroit, mfrs. of frames & woodwork at 570-576 Kirby Ave., West, were reported as having a staff of 34 males, 7 of whom were under the age of 16. The second firm, listed as Kelsey-Herbert Co., 285-289 Monroe av., Detroit, mfrs. of toilet sets etc. was listed as having a staff of 105 males and 100 females for a grand total of 205 hands, with 15 under the age of 16.

It is believed that the Kirby Ave. factory was supplying wood autombile bodies and subassemblies to a number of Detroit automobile body manufacturers, one of which was likely the Ford Motor Co.

The December 9, 1908 edition of the Horseless Age reported on a sizeable order for the firm’s Ward patent spring wheel:

“The Kelsey-Herbert Company, 277 Monroe avenue, Detroit, Mich., have received an order for 100 sets of their spring wheels from the New York Taxicab Company. This is the first large lot of these wheels to be placed in commercial service, so naturally their performance will be watched with interest. One set of these wheels has been in use on a taxicab in New York for some time. These wheels consists of ordinary wood wheel with large diameter, short hollow hub, suspended between two discs, which turn on wheel spindle by a set of helical springs.”

Kelsey, Herbert Co.'s Kirby Ave. factory is absent from the Michigan Bureau of Labor and Industrial Statistics 1909 report which only lists the Kelsey-Herbert Co.'s Monroe Ave. plant, which had significantly less employees than reported in 1907; 56 males and 54 females for a grand total of 110 hands, with 9 under the age of 16.

Although Kelsey withdrew from McClure, Kelsey & Co. in 1900, during the next decade he and his partners invested in three other wood-based firms, the Detroit Bent Goods Co. (Kelsey, pres.); the Kelsey Hickory Co. (Kelsey, pres.) and Fox Brothers & Co. (Kelsey, vice-pres.).

Although Kelsey had hoped to further exploit Dell Ward’s 1907 spring wheel, discussions with various automobile manufacturers (Henry Ford is mentioned) resulted in its abandonment in favor of the mass production of traditional artillery-style automobile wheels.

On January 1, 1909 Kelsey reorganized the Detroit Bent Wood and Kelsey Hickory Companies into the Kelsey Wheel Company, 1230-1240 Military Ave., in order to supply hickory-spoked automobile wheels for the Ford Motor Company. It was reported that during 1909 Ford purchased over 75% of the company's output, the rest going to Cadillac and a handful of smaller Detroit-based automakers. During the next few years, most of Kelsey Wheel’s production went to Ford, with the rest divided amongst Cadillac, Chalmers, Saxon and Hupmobile.

Kelsey served as president of the new firm, with Louis C. Brooks serving as secretary. Born in Ypsilanti, Mich., on Aug. 29, 1870; the son of Myron H. and Julia M. (Pratt) Brooks; Brooks began his active career as a cashier for the Detroit Electrical Works, after which he worked for the Preston National Bank, then finally the Bigelow & Brooks Coal Co, after which he became Kelsey Wheel’s secretary.

The founding of the wheel company did not affect the operations of Kelsey, Herbert & Co. which continued to build the firm’s well-known ‘fancy goods’ at their Monroe Avenue plant. At the time Kelsey, Herbert Co.’s Kirby Ave. plant had long been constructing automobile bodies for the Ford Motor Co. and others, the firm being a well-known supplier of Ford Model T touring car and coupe bodies from 1910 until 1914, many of which are identifiable by KH branding on the woodwork. A letter dated August 12, 1910 in the Ford Archives (Acc. 575) identifies the source of the KH bodies as Kelsey, Herbert Co.

Unbeknownst to many, the Ford Motor Company relied upon outside suppliers for most of its coachwork during its first quarter century. It’s hard to determine who made Ford’s first automobile bodies but soon after the Model T was introduced the names of various Michigan-based sheet-metal, millwork and body-building firms begin to appear on Ford’s supplier list.

Initially most of the Model T’s bodies were supplied by Ford's existing auto body suppliers C.R. Wilson (1903) and Everitt Brothers (1908). O.J. Beaudette (1910), Kelsey-Herbert Co. (1910), American Body Co. (1911), Hayes Mfg. Co.(1911) Milburn Wagon Co. (1911), Fisher Body Co.(1912), and the Kahler Co. (1915). Wm. Gray & Sons supplied Henry Ford’s Windsor assembly plant with automobile bodies from 1906-1912. Regardless of their origin, all of the Model T’s bodies were interchangeable; however the individual parts in a body would not necessarily fit a similar-looking body if it was made by a different manufacturer.

The 1910 edition of the annual Michigan Bureau of Labor and Industrial Statistics Report lists both firms. Kelsey, Herbert Co., 570-576 Kirby Ave., West, Detroit - mfrs. of auto bodies, were reported as having a staff of 152 males, 3 females for a total of 155, 1 of whom was under the age of 16. The second firm, also listed as Kelsey, Herbert Co., 285-289 Monroe av., Detroit, mfrs. of fancy goods etc. had a staff of 79 males and 159 females for a grand total of 237 hands, with 7 under the age of 16. The report indicates that both firms were ordered to make some additions to improve plant safety as follows:

“Kelsey, Herbert Co. (auto bodies); Provide passageway from roof of building No. 2 to roof of building No. 1, also stairway from fourth floor of building No. 1 to roof of same for protection in case of fire, same to have proper guard and hand rails; do not permit males under 18 years of age to work dangerous machinery.

“Kelsey, Herbert Co. (fancy goods); Within 20 days provide hand rails for all stairways, guard all emery wheels in tool room, do not permit boy under 18 years of age to operate elevator, file permits for all children between 14 and 16 years of age,”

The May 21, 1910 issue of the American Stationer reported on the firm’s withdrawal from the fancy goods business:

“The Ames-Bonner Co., has taken over the mirrors formerly carried by the Kelsey, Herbert Co. The Kelsey, Herbert Co. has retired entirely from the fancy goods business, and henceforth will devote itself to an auto wheel big with promise.”

Coincident with its 1910 withdrawal from the ‘fancy goods’ business, the Kelsey, Herbert Co. was reorganized as the Herbert Manufacturing Co., Henry J. Herbert remaining its president, and Earl B. Newton, vice-president. Despite the official name change, the trades continued to refer to the firm as the Kelsey, Herbert or Kelsey-Herbert Co. for the next couple of years. The reorganized firm’s plant remained at the intersection of 12th St. & Kirby Ave. W., Detroit.

The firm produced bodies for Ford and numerous other regional manufacturers such as R-C-H, Hupp-Yeats and the Alpena Motor Car Co., mfrs. of the Alpena Flyer (1910-1914).

At the time he started the Kelsey Wheel Company, John C. Kelsey gave every one of the employees in the Kelsey, Herbert wood works and fancy goods divisions the opportunity of purchasing stock in the Wheel Co. to the value of $500 or more, with the privilege of paying for it in installments as low as $5 per week. Many employees took advantage of the generous offer becoming comfortably fixed in an exceedingly short time, as the stock’s value increased exponentially in the forthcoming years.

Although the firm was officially organized as the Kelsey Wheel Company, many period accounts use the Kelsey,Herbert or Kelsey-Herbert moniker when describing the recently organized wheel company, case in point the following article in the June 2, 1910 issue of Iron Trade:

“The Kelsey-Herbert Wheel Co. has increased its capital from $300,000 to $500,000, the additional money to be used for new buildings and equipment which will double the yearly capacity. It is their intention also to make the wheels complete, including the ball cup and brake drums.”

The 1910 Polk directory lists the wheel company as follows:

“Kelsey Wheel Co. - Complete Automobile Wheels Parts and Rims - Office and Factory 1208-1250 Military Ave.”

The January 1911 issue of Fabrics, Fancy Goods & Notions announced the acquisition of Kelsey, Herbert’s line of fancy good by N. Wiederer & Co.:


“The fact was announced some time ago that N. Wiederer & Co. of Fuerth, Germany had acquired the good will, stock and tools of Kelsey, Herbert Co. Since that time they have been preparing a line of stag horn fancy goods which when shown in this market will certainly meet the merited approval of buyers. This well-known firm which has been established for 78 years is in a peculiarly fortunate position for turning out artistic and novel designs in fancy goods. They conduct in their establishment which is the largest of its kind in the world a training school for the development of the artistic sense in their employees the result of which is a corps of trained mechanics and artisans which can and does turn out a line of merchandise which almost stands alone for originality and novelty of design and showing that perfection of detail which marks the highest grade of goods of German manufacture.”

Another associate of Kelsey and Herbert was Earl B. Newton, who at one time or another served as a director of Kelsey Wheel Co., vice-president of Fox Bros. & Co., and vice-president of the Herbert Mfg. Co.

Born in Summit County, Ohio, on May 11, 1874 to John T. and Mary E. (Adams) Newton, he received his Ph.B. from Hiram College, Ohio in 1898. After graduation Newton served as manager of the mantel and tile department of the A. Teachout Co., of Cleveland, O., until 1906 when he was hired as sales manager of Fox Bros. & Co., Ltd., Fox Bros. Windsor, Canada-based subsidiary. In 1909 he joined the sales force of Fox Bros. Detroit office, becoming its vice-president in 1911.

In February 1913 he established the E. B. Newton Auto Co., serving as its president.

By 1911 it became apparent to Kelsey’s directors that additional sources of supply and manufacturing capacity would be required and negotiations ensued with a Memphis, Tennessee-based industrial sawmill, and on January 1st 1912 Albert E. Manhannah sold his Memphis, Tennessee hardwood sawmill to the Kelsey Wheel Co., staying on as the plant manager. Mahannah, who was born in Cortland, Ohio, in 1864, came to Memphis in 1905 and formed the Mahannah Lumber Co. near the intersection of Plum Avenue and the Illinois Central Railroad. Kelsey’s Tennessee operations made hardwood wheels and composite automobile body framework for many of the Mid-west’s automobile manufacturers in what was deemed the best hardwood sawmill in the country.

At full capacity, the plant’s 4,000 hands could provide nearly a quarter-million feet of lumber a day if operated around the clock. On a monthly basis the plant produced 50,000 automobile bodies and 80,000, sets of wheels, supplying all of the wheels for Cadillac, Studebaker, Hupp, Dodge, Maxwell, Paige and Hudson automobiles and a large part, of the Ford wheels.

October 10, 1912 issue of American Machinist:

“The Herbert Mfg. Co. manufacturer of auto bodies and accessories Detroit, Mich., is building a new factory at 1123-35 Vermont Ave., Detroit. Cost $44,000.”

Kelsey Wheel Co. in Windsor began operations in November, 1913, where it continued turning out auto bodies and wheels for automobile manufacturers. By 1919 it had doubled in size.

By 1915 the wheel company's business had grown to $3.5 million in total revenues and had 15-20 percent of the wheel market, supplying not only Ford but also Hudson, Paige, Chalmers, and Studebaker. The firm's main wheel plant was located at 1230 Military Ave., with satellite facilities at McGraw Ave., Detroit and on Howard Ave in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

July 1915 issue of Barrel and Box:

“Memphis, Tenn., July 12.—One of the largest quantities of hickory material received in Memphis for the manufacture of automobile spokes has just been delivered to the Kelsey Wheel Co. in North Memphis. This came from near Helena, Ark., and was shipped by barge. There were more than twenty solid cars in this shipment and every piece was inspected before it was loaded. The Kelsey Wheel Co. put in additional machinery for the manufacture of automobile spokes and wheels some time ago, and it is operating at present on a somewhat liberal scale.”

The August 1, 1915 issue of The Horseless Age hints that an independent engineer who worked out of the Herbert Mfg Co. building was planning on building his own automobile:

“Nelson Designing New Car.

“Emil A. Nelson, located in the Herbert Mfg. Co. building at 570 West Kirby avenue, Detroit, is designing a new car which will be placed on the market before the end of this year. He told The Horseless Age representative that it would probably be several months before he would complete his plans.”

Production of the Nelson Automobile commenced in 1917, and a reported 350 vehicles were contructed into 1920-21 when the firm succumbed to the post-war depression. Nelson also held a number of US Patents, which were assigned to firms such as the Oldsmobile, Packard and Hupp motor companies.

The body-building operations of the Herbert Mfg. Co. were such that a recapitalization was required in late 1915, the October 1915 issue of Mill Supplies reporting:

“The Herbert Manufacturing Co., Detroit, Mich., manufacturer of automobile accessories, has increased its capital stock from $300,000 to $500,000.”

Things were going well at all of John C. Kelsey's numerous operations and the  July 26, 1916 issue of Copper, Curb and Mining Outlook hinted that a major reogranization was underway:

“Kelsey Wheel Co. - A new offering is to be made and a market found on the curb for the Kelsey Wheel Co., which is to have $3,000,000 7% cumulative preferred stock and $10,000,000 common. The company is to take over the Kelsey Wheel Co. of Michigan; its subsidiary, the Kelsey Wheel Co. of Tennessee; the Herbert Manufacturing Co. of Michigan, and the Kelsey Wheel, Ltd., of Canada.”

The July 26, 1916 issue of Motor World gave a detailed account of the Kelsey reorganization:

“Kelsey Wheel Interests Merge: United as Kelsey Wheel Co. With Capitalization of $13,000,000

“DETROIT, July 22—The consolidation of the Kelsey Wheel Co., with plants at Detroit and Memphis, Tenn.; the Kelsey Wheel Co. of Windsor, Ont., and the Herbert Mfg. Co., Detroit, practically has been completed, the new corporation to be known as the Kelsey Wheel Co., Inc., with a capital stock of $13,000,000, composed of $3,000,000 of 7 per cent cumulative preferred and $10,000,000 common.

“John Kelsey is to become president of the new corporation, but the rest of the officers have not yet been determined. Control of the new organization will remain with Kelsey and the others already associated with him in the several companies entering the merger. Kelsey is the leading figure in the several companies above mentioned, and it is largely due to his genius that these enterprises have grown to their present great size.

“Few realize the enormity of the Kelsey interests, both here and in the South. At the main Kelsey plant in this city twenty-five sets of wood wheels are produced daily, complete with rims. In the making of automobile rims the Kelsey company now ranks at the top, and utilizes 150 tons of steel per day for this product alone. The Herbert Mfg. Co. makes 500 automobile bodies per day, besides finishing and trimming a large proportion of them. This plant is also a very large producer of a variety of steel stampings required in the manufacture of motor vehicles.

“The Memphis, Tenn., plant of the Kelsey company represents an investment of $500,000 and is the factory at which the hickory used in the manufacture of the wheels is concentrated. It is here worked into spokes and felloes, the completed wood wheels then being sent to Detroit, where they receive their steel rims. The Kelsey company located in Windsor, Ont., is a separate corporation, but includes most of the same stockholders. It is the Canadian car manufacturers' main source of wheel supply. The Detroit Kelsey company has an authorized capital stock of $1,500,000, all of one class, and $900,000 of this is outstanding.

“The preferred stock of the Kelsey combination is underwritten by Sachs, Goldman & Co., New York bankers, and the common is said to have been oversubscribed. In the organization plan there is provision for retiring the preferred stock at the rate of $90,000 per year. It is proposed to make the consolidation effective from Jan. 1, 1917.

“There are no immediate plans for expansion of the plant nor for changes in the several companies entering the merger. Each will operate as heretofore for the time being.”

John C. Kelsey provided a brief history of the firm in the July 29, 1916 issue of  The Commercial and Financial Chronicle:

“Kelsey Wheel Co., Inc.—Over-Subscribed.—Lehman Bros, and Goldman, Sachs & Co., announced on Saturday last, that the block of 7% cumulative pref. stock of this new company for which advance subscriptions were received privately on July 21, had been largely over-subscribed.

“Capitalization of the Company, to be Incorporated in New York or other State.

“(No Mortgage or Funded Debt). Preferred stock (par value $100), entitled to 7% cum. prof, dividends, payable quarterly (first div. payable Nov. 1 1916).,$3,000,000.

“Common stock (par value $100) -10,000,000.

“Digest of Letter from John Kelsey, Pres. of Kelsey Wheel Co. (of Michigan). Detroit. July 21 1916. Organization. It is proposed to organize a now company to take over as of Dec. 31, 1915 the entire assets and business of Kelsey Wheel Co. of Michigan and Herbert Mfg. Co. of Michigan, as going concerns, and the capital stock of Kelsey Wheel Co.. Ltd., of Canada and of the Kelsey Wheel Co. of Tenn.. all of which I am President and the largest stockholder.

“The business of the Kelsey Wheel Co. of Michigan was started by me in 1909. with a paid In cash capital of $50,000, to which additional cash capital, amounting to $75,000. was added in 1910 (V. 102, p. 1630). Kelsey Wheel Co., Ltd.. of Canada, was started in 1914 with a paid in cash capital of $100,000 - Herbert Mfg. Co. was started in Aug. 1911 with a paid in cash capital of $50,000. The entire original cash investment In the companies to be taken over amounted then to $275,000. Their combined net tangible assets were on Dec. 31 1915 in excess of $2,500,000, in addition to which substantial dividends were earned and paid.

“The businesses have been successful from the start and have grown as fast as manufacturing facilities could be provided. The result has been that the Kelsey Wheel Co. now owns and operate* the largest complete automobile wheel plant In the world, and makes wheels for the most prominent automobile manufacturers of the country under annual contracts, terms cash in 30 days. Our soiling and commercial expenses are, therefore, nominal and no large stocks for finished products are necessary. We were the first company to turn out for the automobile manufacturer a complete wheel ready for the tire. As the automobile manufacturers find it cheaper to purchase their wheels from a concern specializing in that output than to endeavor to manufacture wheels needed only for their own cars. I feel we should have a steady and growing demand. We employ about 3,475 people.

“Management — The present managers of the combined businesses, who have been responsible for their successful growth, will retain ownership of a majority of the common stock of the new company and will continue as active managers and directors.

“Patents — This company owns valuable patent rights and has been advised by eminent counsel that it is fully protected thereunder in all its manufacturing processes.

“Finances, Ac. — There will be paid into the new company $500,000 additional cash capital. Part of this capital will be used In providing increased manufacturing facilities which are needed to enable us to keep pace with our rapidly growing business and for developing service depots throughout the country - The new company takes over the combined businesses as of Dec. 31 1915 and will have net tangible assets as of that date in excess of $3,000,000. It will have no mortgage or funded debt.

“We have at present orders on our books amounting to $10,000,000, which will absorb our capacity for almost a year, although we are running three shifts of men eight hours per shift. We use 50,000 tons of steel per year and 20.000,000 feet of hickory. At our Memphis plant we have our own sawmills and wood-working plants, and we there obtain the advantage of very low labor and raw material costs. Our main manufacturing plants are located In Detroit, the centre of the automobile industry, and we thereby eliminate, to a very great degree, freight charges.

“Profits of Combined Companies for Calendar Years 1914 and 1915 and for Six Months ending June 30, 1916.













*First six months, estimated total for all 12 months $1,000,000.

“Touche, Niven & Co. will examine our books and accounts and certify as to the above sales and profits. The net profits of the new company for the calendar year 1916 will be considerably over $1,000,000.”

The August 26th, 1916 issue of Automobile Topics states that the formal merger of Kelsey Wheel Co. was completed on that date.

Many of the images shown to the right were taken from a circa 1917 Kelsey Wheel Co. catalog supplied by collector George Albright of Ocala, Florida. It indicates that not only was Kelsey producing wheels and bodies, but offered a complete line of aftermarket accessories for the Ford Model T.

Although rare today, Kelsey sent out thousands of the leather-sheathed catalog to the nations numerous Ford Motor Co. distributors, who would show it to cusomers desiring something that would help make their motor distinctive and more comfortable. Kelsey Wheel accessories could also help modernize an earlier Model T with the addition of new wheels, fenders and a more modern body and convertible top. When combined with the pictured radiator shroud, which was designed to fit over an old brass-era radiator shell, and a matching Kelsey hood, a circa 1912 Model T could be made to look just a like a brand new 1917-1918 model.

Kelsey was also  a major contributor to the Allied war effort, producing thousands of wooden artillery wheels for WWI military wagons and gun carriages, the January 9, 1918 issue of Motor World reporting:

“$3,000,000 War Order

“LANSING, MICH., Jan. 4 — The Prudden Wheel Co. and the Auto Wheel Co. have received a Government contract calling for $3,000,000 worth of escort wheels. These contracts must be completed by Dec. 31, 1918, and are proportional to the representative productive capacities of the two concerns. It is estimated that the Auto Wheel Co. will require 800 additional employees to complete the work in that time. Other big orders calling for the same type of wheel have been placed with the Kelsey Wheel Co. of Detroit and the Hayes Wheel Co. of Jackson.”

He also helped found the Detroit Shell Company, whose formation was announced in the March 1918 issue of The Hub:

“Shell Company Formed by Detroit Automobile Men

“A $2,000,000 corporation has been formed in Detroit to make shells for Uncle Sam. It is to be known as the Detroit Shell Co.. and has for its officers men prominent m the automobile and allied industries. They are: President, John Kelsey, president of the Kelsey Wheel Co.; vice-presidents, Harry M. Jewett, of the Paige Motor Car Co., and Roscoe B. Jackson, of the Hudson Motor Car Co.; treasurer, Edsel Ford, of the Ford Motor Co.. and secretary, J. Walter Drake, of the Hupp Motor Car Co.

“Incorporation of the company followed shortly after the visit of the Automobile Industries Committee from Washington. Hugh Chalmers, chairman; A. W. Copland and John K. Lee. and the offer of an initial contract for $30,000,000 worth of munitions, with the prospect of more business to follow. The new company has taken over the immense new plant of the Springfield Body Co., in Springwells, containing some 200,000 sq. ft. of floor space and it is anticipated that between 8,000 and 10,000 men will be employed.”

Kelsey subsequently received an $8 million wheel order which was reported in the May-August 1918 rerpot of the Standard Corporation Service:

“KELSEY WHEEL CO. INC. May – An order for $8,000,000 Worth of  Wheels – It was announced May 23, 1918, that the company had received an order for $8,000,000 worth of wheels. To take care of this order Mr. Kelsey bought 12,000,000 feet of white oak in Kentucky and shipments of the oak into Detroit have begun.

“Mr. Kelsey is also the head of Detroit Shell Co. This concern is working on an order for $30,000,000 worth of small shells.”

Kelsey also managed to find time for recreation and in 1918 helped found the Grosse Ile Golf and Country Club,a nationally-known 18-hole golf course situated on a 290 acre plot located in the center of the island.

One of Kesley's major contribution to the automobile wheel business was the introduction of the steel felloe. The April 11, 1918 issue of Automotive Industries provides the basic details:

“Kelsey Wheel with Metal Felloe Saves Hickory

“THE Kelsey Wheel Co. of Detroit has brought out a wheel with a metal felloe band in place of the usual wood type. The advantages resulting from this method of construction are that it obviates the consumption of wood of a kind which is difficult to obtain at the present time and that it gives a wheel which is equal in strength and resiliency to the usual wood wheel at a lower cost.

“For some time the Kelsey Co., which furnishes manufacturers of passenger cars in and around Detroit with approximately 500,000 sets of wheels annually, has had its engineers working on this problem. Up to this time the company has used a wood felloe band construction with the connection between the spoke and the felloe reinforced by a flange clip. This fastening device, known as the "flanged over edge" type, has been used to strengthen the wood felloe and maintain the rigidity of the wheel. The new construction gives a wheel for which the same service is claimed, as well as saving half the wood formerly required.

“In the Kelsey construction a steel felloe is used which is of endless channel shape section, extensible and in a single piece. On each spoke. is placed a stamped steel ferrule, which protects the spoke when going into the felloe, giving a weather-proof and check-proof joint. The wood spokes and ferrule are forced into the steel felloe under hydraulic pressure. They are turned true to size and mitered, both at the flange and the hub, and arranged in staggered relation. When glued, the spokes are forced under heavy pressure radially outward in a tenanting socket of the endless steel felloe by opposite pressure applied at the center of the wheel. This gives a high degree of tensioning and a permanent assemblage of the wheel. Although bolts are used in the hub, these are not depended upon to hold the spokes in place, as the tensioning mentioned is more than sufficient to take care of this. Tests on a wheel with 1/2 in. spokes (corresponding to a tire size of 30 x 3 1/2 in.) have shown it to be capable of supporting a radial load of 2000 lbs.

“The Kelsey Co. has been developing this type of wheel for four years, and placed several sets of them among manufacturers for trial. The results obtained have led to the adoption of the type as a standard stock product and they are now being produced in quantities.”

The steel felloe was a crucial step in the development of the composite wood and steel automobile wheel, a fact that did not escape Clark B. Firestone, who provides a very detailed account of its development in the following excerpt from his book, Army Ordnance: History of district offices, [1918-19], pub. 1920:

“Detroit: Introducing the Steel Felloe.

“One of the important new things which Detroit gave the country was the steel felloe—vital for conditions of speed and urgency such as obtained in the World War, promising in its possibilities of peace service. This device was the product of that necessity winch conceives invention: and the necessity of producing it was that of the Kelsey Wheel Co., maker of automobile wheels and their parts.

“The company had orders from both Ordnance and Quartermaster. The latter was for escort wheels used on the transportation and supply wagons, on which the plant attained its scheduled output of 600 a day. Ordnance gave it a novel and difficult task, the manufacture of wheels for the 75-millimeter and 250-millimeter gun carriages. Both types of wheel were unknown here, the 75-millimeter differing from the standard type of wheel in that it required more dish in manufacture, the 250-millimeter being larger than the standard 60-inch American wheel.

“With contracts which would require 25,000,000 feet of logs to fill, the company went into the southern woods. This was in February, 1918, when the rainy season was on in the South and the overflow from the Mississippi River had backed into the forests. The logs obtained were grass-green and winter-cut instead of fall-cut. Although prewar custom was to use only air-seasoned stock for artillery wheels, war demand had speedily consumed the supply of dry stock of available size. It was necessary to make the best possible use of this grass-green stock, drying it by artificial means, since the air-dried stock dried only 1 inch to the year, and the material was 4 inches thick.

“The company ran into difficulties when it attempted to speed up the seasoning processes of nature. Kiln-drying required a delay of from four to six months for material needed at once, and despite all care taken the green stock developed what is known as hollow-horn, holes due to the breaking down of wood cells, making the rims worthless. At the same time these pieces of unusual size were not behaving right after they had passed through the steam retorts and gone to the bending machines. In common with other makers the company found that a large portion of the stock was buckling in bending, and breaking the backs of the rims. When it saw that from available stock it could not get 3 per cent of its needs, it turned to a field of experiment in which, as a maker of automobile wheels, it had been interested for two years; and it brought its plans and tests to a quick constructive conclusion. The result was the steel felloe.

“Passes all tests.

“On August 19, 1918, the Kelsey Wheel Co. submitted to the Ordnance Department its designs for a channel rolled-steel felloe to take the place of wood and interchange with it. Five days later word came to go ahead and 15 days thereafter sample wheels were ready and put under a direct load of 12,000 pounds over the axle. Eighteen days afterwards the wheels had passed the 1,000-mile point, and Maj. James Guthrie, who had the test in charge, reported to Washington:

“They are giving perfect satisfaction in spite of the fact that the roadbed is exceedingly rough and the load perhaps more than will ever come on the wheels when in use with the battery. The wood situation is apparently tightening up in every direction, and there is increasing loss due to the attempt of the wheel manufacturer to hasten the drying, which holds up production all along the line. We advise the use of the steel felloe.

“The test went on to 5,000 miles without change of wheels, and meanwhile the company got to work. By October 15, 1918, it was in production according to schedule, and what seemed an unavoidable delay of from four to six months had been averted. By the time of the armistice the company was in shape to relieve the shortage of wood stocks for bent rims and to furnish Ordnance with the steel felloe design on any type of wheel, in any needed quantity.

“One advantage of this felloe is that it allows the wheels to be stored without deterioration. The spokes will not shrink or dry out lengthwise, as this is contrary to the structure of either oak or hickory, and the felloes, where the shrinkage would naturally take place, are of steel. Because the latter do not split and because of the shortage of wood stock, many automobile and truck-wheel manufacturers have begun using them in commercial practice.

“The Kelsey Wheel Co. also made for the Ordnance Department the standard 60-inch artillery wheel hub and the large hub-for the 240-millimeter wheels, their daily production being 250.

“As was to have been expected, the district's wheel production shows up large. Output figures as of June 9, 1919, include the following: ?? by 4 inch artillery wheels, 3,800; 1,334-millimeter artillery wheels, 1,707; 130 by 90 millimeter artillery wheels. 2,193; 6O by 8 inch artillery wheels. 3,800; steel felloe bands. 1,020: 50-inch artillery-wheel hubs, 58,300; 60-inch artillery-wheel hubs. 1,400; spokes for 56-inch artillery wheels, 246,250: bent rims for 56-inch artillery wheels, 20,850; spoke shoes for 56-inch artillery wheels. 1,000,000: spoke shoe plates, 71,100; axles for 4.7-inch gun carriages. 579; axles for reel carts, 2,408.”

During 1918 a reported 80 percent of production capacity was devoted to producing wheels for the war effort. The March 27, 1919 issue of Automotive Industries provides insight into Kelsey Wheel Co., finances at the time:

“Kelsey Wheel Has $2,067,904 Surplus

“DETROIT, March 22—A surplus of $2,067,904 is shown in the Kelsey Wheel Co.'s financial statement for the year ended Dec. 31 last, after all necessary deductions were made and $355,022 put aside as provision for federal taxes. This amount is $583,229 ahead of 1917 surplus. $1,565,625 is still due from the government for war contracts.

“Consolidated balance sheet of Kelsey Wheel Co., Inc.,and subsidiaries, as of Dec. 31, 1918 and 1917, compares as follows:




Plant equipment, etc.



Patents, good will, etc.



Investments in other companies





Notes and accounts receivable






Due from U. S. Government


Liberty bonds, etc.



Insurance premiums



Deferred charges







Preferred stock



Common stock



Notes payable



Accounts payable



Sundry creditors, etc.



Provision for taxes









Flush with cash, Kelsey embarked upon a building camapign, the April 24, 1919 issue of Automotive Industries reporting:

“Kelsey Wheel Addition - WINDSOR ONT., April 12 - A building permit has been granted to the Kelsey Wheel Co. for the erection of an addition to the plant.”

The August 7, 1919 issue of the same publication announces a proposed expansion in Memphis:


“NEW YORK, Aug. 2—Announcement has been made here that the Kelsey Wheel Co., Inc., of Detroit, plans the expenditure of $1,000,000 to increase its manufacturing facilities at Memphis, giving employment to 4,000 workers. Forty acres of land have been purchased for the additional facilities. The company produces parts for the Ford car.”

The firm's automobile body busines was also expanding at the time as evidenced by the following item in the October 1919 issue of Packages:

“The Kelsey Wheel Co., Memphis, has begun the erection of a large addition to be completed in February 1920 for the manufacture of bodies for the Ford Motor Car Co.; $70,000 worth of saw mill machinery has been ordered already and orders for power machinery, boilers etc. will be extensive.”

The June 12, 1919 issue of Automotive Industries reported that the firm was posied to produce a record 800,000 wheel sets - approximately 4,000,000 individual wheels:

“800,000 KELSEY WHEEL SETS IN 1919

“DETROIT June 7 - The Kelsey Wheel Co.’s 1919 output will be 800,000 sets of wheels as against 690,000 in 1918. In addition to automobile wheels the company is now making automobile bodies and brake bands.”

The October 4, 1919 issue of American Contractor reveals that Maurice Grabowsky was the firm’s chief engineer (I could find no evidence he was directly related to Detroit's famous family of truck and body builders who shared the surname):

“Factory (add.): 2 sty. 140x340. McGraw av. & P. M. R. R. Struct. Engr. L. D. Zimmerman, care owner, McGraw av. plant. Owner Kelsey Wheel Co., Maurice Grabowsky, chief engr., 1208 Military av. Brk., re. cone. Plans in progress.

Factory (add., storage): 1 sty. 30x 130. 576 W. Kirby. Mech. & Struct. Engr. L. D. Zimmerman, care Kelsey Wheel Co. Owner Maurice Grabowsky, ch. engr., 1208 Military av. Brk. & steel. Taking bids.”

Kelsey's wheels were on 70 percent of Ford's cars by early 1920, the 1920 edition of the annual Michigan Bureau of Labor and Industrial Statistics Report listing three separate Kelsey Wheel facilities in Detroit, two wheel factories and one automobile body plant:

Kelsey Wheel Co. plant #1 – Automobile Wheels; 1560 male emp., 18 female – total 1578. Kelsey Wheel Co. plant #2 - Automobile Wheels; 600 male emp., 6 female – total 606. Kelsey Wheel Co. plant #3 Automobile Bodies; 551 male emp., 34 female – total 585.

The October 28, 1920 issue of American Machinist pictured a sheet metal welding machine installed at a Kelsey Wheel body plant:

“The Winfield Machines - The machines made by the Winfield Electric Welding Machine Co., Warren, Ohio, comprise a varied line for every conceivable spot welding purpose. A very interesting machine is shown in Fig 410. This has the entire head suspended from the ceiling so that work like the automobile body shown may be worked under it. This machine is in use in the plant of the Herbert Manufacturing Co., Detroit.”

The April 21, 1921 issue of Automotive Industries announced that the firm's recently constructed Memphis body plant was nearing completion:

“Kelsey Wheel Co., Memphis, Tenn., is nearing completion of its new body plant which is expected to have a production capacity of 500 bodies a day.”

The September 1, 1921 issue of Automotive Industries reported on the passing of a Kelsey executive:

“Kelsey Wheel Official Dies After Long Illness

“DETROIT, Aug. 31— James S. Stevenson, vice-president of the Kelsey Wheel Co., died here Tuesday after a two years illness. He had been a resident of Detroit since 1887, joining Berry Bros. Inc., and later becoming general manager of that company.”

The October 27, 1921 issue of Automotive Industries reported on a patent infringement case that would ultimately play a roll in the merger of the two parties involved:


“DETROIT, Oct. 26— Federal District Court here has decided patents of the Universal Wheel Co. have been infringed by the Kelsey Wheel Co. The decision affects royalties on rims manufactured by Kelsey prior to 1917, according to Kelsey officials. An appeal to the Supreme Court will be taken. John Kelsey, president, says the total sum involved is nominal and has been covered by a reserve for some time.”

Although Kelsey' new Memphis Body plant had been ready to go months earlier, as of February 1st, 1922, no bodies had been produced. The February 3, 1922 issue of Lumber (Manufacturer and Dealer) provide the details:

“Kelsey Auto Body Co. Plans to Raise Output

“Memphis, Tenn., Jan. 30. — The Kelsey Auto Body Co. has a contract for bodies from the Studebaker Co. and it has placed its plant here in operation with about fifty men on the payroll. It plans to increase the output as rapidly as conditions will permit. The management states that it had a contract with the Ford Motor Car Co. and that the plant, which cost approximately $1,750,000, was built to take care of the Ford requirements. This contract, it states, however, was cancelled before the plant was placed in operation, with the result that it has been idle until a few days ago. The company also erected a sawmill and purchased quantities of cypress and gum lumber to be used in the manufacture of bodies, thus bringing its investment close to $2,500,000.

The auto body plant is separate from the plant operated by the Kelsey Wheel Co.”

The reason for the cancellation was that soon afer the contract was signed Henry Ford had decided to build his own woodworking and body plant in Iron Mountain, Michigan. The July 20, 1922 issue of Motor Age reporting:


“MILWAUKEE, Wis., July 17 — The Ford Motor Co.'s body plant and principal woodworking factories, established a year ago at Iron Mountain, Mich., under the name of the Michigan, Land, Lumber & Iron Co., will be doubled in size at once by the erection of a second unit. This has come to light through the letting of a contract to the Worden-Allen Co. of Milwaukee for the structural steel work on the new shop. The Iron Mountain plant is in the heart of the best growth of hardwood timber as well as an extensive softwood belt in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.”

Luckily other customers materialized and automobile body production had commenced by the time the Northeastern Retail Lumbermen's Association toured Kelsey's Memphis plant in mid-March, the March 18, 1922 issue of American Lumberman reporting:

“Busy Day Spent At Memphis

“Memphis, Tenn., March 15. — Members of the third annual excursion of the Northeastern Retail Lumbermen's Association arrived in Memphis this morning from Crossett, Ark., where they spent yesterday, sixty-eight strong.

“The visitors spent a very busy day sightseeing, inspecting plants where hardwood lumber and lumber products, including flooring, veneers, spokes and auto bodies, are manufactured and in being entertained by the Lumbermen's Club of Memphis.

“Members of the club in automobiles met the excursionists at the Grand Central station, brought the ladies to the hotel and then took the lumbermen to the plants of the Kelsey Wheel Co., Kelsey Auto Body Co., Memphis Hardwood Flooring Co., and E. L. Bruce & Co., manufacturers of hardwood flooring. After the luncheon, members of the party were driven to the hardwood mill and veneer plant of Nickey Bros. (Inc.), at Binghamton, a suburb of Memphis, where they continued the inspection work begun during the forenoon.

“The visitors expressed themselves as amazed at the immensity of the plants and the efficiency of the operations. They were informed at the plant of the Kelsey Wheel Co., where they saw all processes in the manufacture of spokes from the log to the finished product, that this firm is turning out 150,000 spokes a day with five hundred men, who accomplish as much as the eleven hundred employed during the war period and that immediately following the armistice as a result of the greater efficiency being shown. At the plant of the Kelsey Auto Body Co., where only fifty men are employed, they were told that four hundred knocked-down bodies are being turned out daily. This concern only recently started operations and is just now beginning to get its working organization rounded into shape. J. E. Mahannah, general manager of the Kelsey Wheel Co., greeted the visiting lumbermen on their arrival at the Kelsey plants and took pleasure in showing them thru all departments.”

The April 22, 1922 issue of Automotive Industries reported that Kelsey's Kirby Ave. body plant had received an order from the Gray Motor Co.:

“Kelsey Wheel to Make Bodies for New Gray

“DETROIT, April 26 — The Kelsey Wheel Co., Inc., will make the bodies for the new Gray motor cars, in both open and closed models. Until within the past year, Kelsey was a big producer of Ford bodies, having a capacity for over 1000 bodies daily. This work was discontinued with the opening by the Ford company of its own body making plant.

“First bodies for the Gray line are now under construction in the Kirby Avenue plant of the Kelsey company.”

By 1922 Kelsey's authorized capital had been raised to $13,000,000 and the firm employed 2,700. In addition to the firm's well-known wheels, hubs, brake drums, rims, and bodies, they began offering all-steel wheels for the popular Fordson tractor what were marketed under the ‘Kelsey Industrial Units’ moniker.

March 24, 1922 Lumber (Mfr. & Dlr.):

“The Kelsey Wheel Co., North Memphis, which is turning out 150,000 spokes per day for automobiles, says through A.E. Mahannah, its manager, that it is working at capacity although it is employing only 500 as compared with 1,100 during the war and the period immediately following the armistice. Increased efficiency given as the explanation.”

The Memphis-based Kelsey Wheel Co., Body Div., (aka Kelsey Auto Body Co.), was sold off to the Fisher Body Co. in 1923, the December 1923 Manufacturer’s Record reporting:

“Fisher Body Corporation Acquires Saw Mill and Body Woodworking Plant at Memphis. - Memphis, Tenn., November 10 — [Special] — A tract of 45 acres of land, a double band saw mill with an annual capacity of 50,000,000 feet of hardwood lumber, dry kilns, storage for 75,000,000 feet of lumber, together with a body woodworking plant, all belonging to Kelsey Wheel Co. here, have been acquired by the Fisher Body Corporation of Detroit. The Kelsey Wheel Co. will limit its Southern operations to the manufacture of wheels and parts. Within the past year the Fisher Body Corporation has acquired plants at Pontiac, Flint and Lansing, Michigan; Buffalo, N.Y.; Oakland, Cal; Janesville, Wis.; Cincinnati and St, Louis., in addition to a new plate glass plant at Ottawa, Ill., for the National Plate Glass Co., a subsidiary of the Fisher Body Corp.”

Albert E. Mahannah passed away near the end of 1924, the October 13, 1924 Memphis Commercial Appeal reporting:

“A.E. Mahannah Dies After Long Illness - Vice President KElsey Wheel Co - Succumbed Yesterday

“Albert E. Mahannah 60, for the past 13 years Vice-President and General Manager of the Kesley Wheel Company of Memphis, died after a long illness at his home 1577 Carr Avenue, yesterday morning at 4:20 oclock. Mr. Mahannah has been in failing health for some time and his last illness continued over a period of four weeks.

“Mr. Mahannah was born and reared in Cortland, Ohio. He was educated in the elementary and preparatory schools of that city and later attended Albany College in Ohio. He afterwards became identified with the lumber industry of Marietta, Ohio and  subsequently of Brownsville, Tennessee and Lyon, Mississippi.

“Coming to Memphis from Lyon about twenty years ago, Mr. Mahannah took his place among the leading business men of the city and has been prominently identified with the growth of the lumber business in Memphis and territory, particularly referring to the wheel and spoke industry. Under his able management the Kelsey Wheel Works prospered and today presents itself as one of the industrial monuments of the city.”

At the firm's next board of directors meeting, his son, J.C. Mahannah, a 10-year Kelsey Wheel Co. veteran, was elected to succeed his father as head of the company's Memphis subsidiary.

Kelsey later partnered with fellow Ford body supplier Walter O. Briggs in acquiring a half interest in the Detroit Tigers, Detroit’s American League baseball club. He was also associated with the Detroit Athletic Club as President and reportedly “kept the D. A. C. alive for years by paying all the bills as they came due.” He was also a member of the Detroit Board of Commerce, Detroit Automobile Club, Bloomfield Hills Country Club and Grosse Pte. Golf and Country Club. During the winter he lived at 5205 Cass Ave., and during the summer at his Grosse Pte. estate.

The firm listing in the 1927 Chilton Directory follows:

“Kelsey Wheel Co., Inc. (Auto wheel rims, hubs and tractor wheels) Plant. 3800 Military Ave., Detroit, Mich. Pres., John Kelsey Sec.. L.C. Brooks Prod. Mgr., Harold V. Fox Works Mgr., W.J. Kaltz Pur. Act., A.G. Conklin Chief Engr.”

While both the Kelsey Wheel Company and the Hayes Wheel companies got their start with the production of wood wheels, by the early 1920s both firms were expanding into the production of wire wheels which by 1927 made up 25% of the market. Wire wheels were cheaper to produce and they were replaceable and transferrable from one axle to another (while wooden artillery wheels came as part of the entire axle assembly).

John C. Kelsey passed away on January 21, 1927 at the age of 59. Kelsey's directors saw an opportunity to increase their already substantial profits through a merger with their chief competitor, The Hayes Wheel Co. However a lawsuit threatened the merger as Kelsey's had been accused of violating a patent that dealt with the critical issue of mountability of wire wheels that had been issued to Edward Cole and assigned to the Packard Motor Car Co. Packard had turned over its licensing arrangements to the Wire Wheel Corp. of Buffalo, New York, a major competitor of Kelsey's who, not surprisingly, refused to allow them to use it.

In collaboration with the firm's attorneys, Kelsey's successor, George Kennedy, came up with an elegant solution to the firm's patent problems. They purchased the Wire Wheel Corp. and bought the rights to Cole's patent from Packard for $500,000, paving the way for the 1927 merger which was first announced on April 27, 1927, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporting:


“The Kelsey Wheel Co. of Detroit and the Hayes Wheel Co. are to be merged and the new company will be known as the Kelsey-Hayes Wheel corporation, according to an announcement authorized by officials of the Hayes Co. All common stock of the Hayes Co. is to be bought by the new organization. Holders are to receive $15 in cash and a half share of stock in the Kelsey-Hayes corporation for each share of common. About $3,000,000 is to be paid out and 96,522 shares of new stock will be issued. The new concern is to be functioning by the latter part of June.”

On May 23, 1927 Hayes stockholders approved the plan to sell substantially all of the assets of the company to the Kelsey Wheel Co., Inc., which was consequently reorganized as the Kelsey-Hayes Wheel Corp.

By that time Kelsey Wheel Co. had long-since stopped the manufacture of automobile bodies (1923), so the story ends at this point.

© 2012 Mark Theobald -

Appendix I:

George Albright supplied the photos, he also owns one of three known Kelsey Wheel Co. aftermarket bodies. He writes:

“I bought the Kelsey body today to put on my Kelsey prototype chassis/running gear. Bought it from the poster Gene Elkins, of Tn. I found out this Kelsey body was made by the Kelsey Wheel Co. of Detroit. I just bought a factory brochure from 1917 showing this exact body in it! Kelsey made wheels and bodies and merged with Hayes Wheel Co. in 1927 to become Kelsey Hayes Wheel Co. This was an aftermarket body for Model T Fords which are 100 inch wb. Since my Kelsey chassis is made partially of Model T parts and is also 100 inch wb, it will be a great fit! My body was removed by Mr. Kelsey himself in the 1920s and discarded, and the chassis stored in the Troybilt factory in Troy N.Y. until 1970 when it was removed by automotive historian Keith Marvin. Even though its two different Kelsey Companies, it is the correct year size, style, etc body as the original. A great ending to a great story.”






Beverly Rae Kimes & Henry Austin Clark - Standard Catalog of American Cars: 1805-1942

Henry Taylor & Co. - Compendium of History and Biography of the City of Detroit and Wayne County, Michigan, pub. 1909

Clarence Monroe Burton, William Stocking & Gordon K. Miller - The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922: Volumes 3 & 5, pub. 1922

Albert Nelson Marquis - The Book of Detroiters, pub. 1914

William Richard Cutter - American Biography: A New Cyclopedia: Volume 43, pub. 1930

George S. May - A Most Unique Machine: The Michigan Origins of the American Automobile Industry, pub. 1975

Tina Grant, editor - International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 27, pub. 1999

Clark B. Firestone - Army Ordnance: History of district offices, [1918-19], pub. 1920

Thomas H. Klier & James M. Rubenstein - Who Really Made Your Car, pub. 2008

Kelsey-Hayes Company - A Billion Wheels Later, pub. 1984

Callahan, J. M., "Life After Buyout," Automotive Industry, August 1987 issue.

"Canada's Varity Agrees to Buy K-H For Reduced Price," Wall Street Journal, October 5, 1989.

Dale Jewett - GM Denies Corrosion Causes Poor Performance in Antilock Brakes, Detroit News, January 15, 1998 issue

George S. May - A Most Unique Machine: The Michigan Origins of the American Automobile Industry, pub. 1975

Tina Grant, editor  - International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 27, pub. 1999
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