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Kelsey-Hayes Corporation

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Kelsey-Hayes was established in 1927 through the merger of Kelsey Wheel and Hayes Wheel. Both companies were founded in 1909, and both had made early advances in the wooden wheel industry. Kelsey and Hayes had important connections in automobile manufacturing, which helped them succeed as automotive parts suppliers. In 1909 the Ford Motor Company purchased three-fourths of the wheels produced by the Kelsey Wheel Company.

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Kelsey-Hayes was established in 1927 through the merger of Kelsey Wheel and Hayes Wheel. Both companies were founded in 1909, and both had made early advances in the wooden wheel industry. Kelsey and Hayes had important connections in automobile manufacturing, which helped them succeed as automotive parts suppliers. In 1909 the Ford Motor Company purchased three-fourths of the wheels produced by the Kelsey Wheel Company.

By 1915 Kelsey produced wheels for 15 to 20 percent of the automobile industry. The Kelsey Wheel Company also produced 80 percent of artillery wheels during the World War I. By the end of the war Kelsey was turning consistent profits. During the same period, Clarence Hayes was supplying over half of the American automobile business with his wheels. In the 1920s the advent of the wire wheel required dramatic changes for these wooden wheel producers. Although both companies expanded into wire wheel production, they chose to face this new challenge together, and in 1927 they formed the Kelsey-Hayes Wheel Company.

The union struck the company in 1936. The company established a 75¢ minimum hourly wage but still refused to recognize the union. By 1938 and 1939, Kelsey-Hayes was showing profits again. By this time the company was selling newly developed hydraulic brakes to Ford (which had become standard equipment on Ford cars). Kelsey-Hayes also came out with a new brake drum.

The company continued to broaden its product line beyond wheels; in the years that followed, the biggest successes were in non-wheel products. Kelsey-Hayes pioneered disc brake systemsstandard equipment on Lincoln Continentals and Thunderbirds in the 1960s. But by the 1970s eighty-five percent of U.S. cars were equipped with Kelsey-Hayes disc brakes. Also at that time, nearly every jet engine contained some parts manufactured by the Kelsey-Hayes Corporation.

 

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