LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY                        
NEW YORK, NEW YORK (Business Offices)
(Kelly Axe & Tool Co.)
There are two other articles on this web site related to companies that may provide additional information. They are
The American Axe & Tool Co.
The American Fork & Hoe Co./True Temper.
The information included in this article has been obtained from a wide variety of sources including but not limited to City Directories from Louisville, KY. and Charleston, W. VA., the Louisville, KY. Public Library, information printed in company catalogs and some resources available on the Internet. Much of the trademark information included was provided by Ron and Virginia White of Angels Camp, CA. Many of the labels and markings were observed, sketched and/or photographed in the field with additional images provided by different tool collectors and/or tool historians. The illustrations have all been drawn by the author with the inclusion of one photograph as noted.
As of this posting a significant number of individuals have contributed information to this overall project appearing as Yesteryears Tools. Some have provided a considerable amount of information while others have provided bits and pieces. They are all considered important but it is impractical to include a list of contributors with every article. A complete list of contributors to this overall project will be published in the Credits Section. Additional names will be added as circumstances warrant.
Representations of some of the head styles and markings used by the Kelly Axe Mfg. Co.
  The name Kelly Axe & Tool Co. was another name for the Kelly Axe Mfg. Co.
   The names Kelly Axe & Tool Works and Kelly Works were directly related to the axe making division of the American Fork & Hoe Co. They used the similar name after they acquired the Kelly Axe Mfg. Co.
Unless otherwise noted, the images depicted are representations of etched designs or facsimiles of labels used by the Kelly Axe Mfg. Co. In many cases the company location is included on the label which helps to determine the timeframe when used. Many brands were used while the company was operating in each location and some were even used by the company successors. Not all of the known markings or labels are included herewith and no successor’s markings or labels are included with this article. The exact sequence in which brands were introduced is not known so no conclusions should be drawn from the sequence in which the illustrations are presented.
The graphics are illustrations based on data acquired by observations or photographs of actual artifacts and/or catalog representations from the appropriate time period. They are not 100% accurate but they are quite close. In addition, no scale between labels and/etching graphics are intended but each individual illustration is reasonably close in regard to proportions of the various components.
These rather simple Hand Made markings were used on axes made in all three locations. The Cross Cut marking is not as common. The style of the letters changed over the years and became more refined.
The PERFECT brand was used on axes made at each location, sometimes alone, sometimes with supplemental markings on the opposite face and sometimes in conjunction with a wholesale distributor.
Eventually stampings were introduced and became more simplified as the years went by. The Vulcan designs at the top right and  the lower left were
used by True Temper.
No paper labels are known to have been used on BLACK RAVEN axes or hatchets. All the designs were etched with some filled with bronzing colors and others appearing as the natural metal color of the axe heads.
No paper labels are known with the OIL WHETTED brand or the REGISTERED brand.
There is some conjecture that the FULTON brand name was used to honor Robert Fulton and his steam boat, a subject W. J. Kelly was quite interested in.  
The etching design (above left) was registered as
No. 26,531 on January 12, 1897. Both the COLUMBIA and the COLUMBIAN brands were used, perhaps to appeal to different markets.
Photo of original label by T. Lamond.
The early paper labels were embossed and included considerable detail. Later labels were simplified and flat. In the case of the VULCAN label a detailed label very similar to the photograph was reintroduced by the American Fork & Hoe Co. after 1930.
The graphic at the right was included as part of Trademark
No. 30,385 and was first registered in November 1897 by the Kelly Axe Mfg. Co when they were located in Alexandria, IN.
There were a number of labels used for the STANDARD brand name, many included wording printed in Spanish while others were printed in English. The outside shapes also varied considerably, as did the color combinations. It is believed that axes and hatchets bearing the STANDARD brand were heavily exported to Central and South America. The use of the New York address along with the company name Kelly Axe & Tool Co. supports that belief.  
The KELLY VANADIUM etched marking has only been observed on hatchets but that does not preclude the use of the mark on axes. Some etched markings include the company name KELLY AXE MFG. CO. while others include the company’s alternate name, KELLY AXE & TOOL CO.
The Kelly Axe Mfg. Co. marketed a number of axes with labels that were far less common than some of their other brands. The TROOPER Axe label was also applied to handles. Considering the lack of more than one reference it may suggest that goods so labeled were possibly supplied to distributors without any warrantee.  
The two labels on the left are believed to have been used in the 1920s. Some BATTLE AXE labels were printed with the name W. C. KELLY in the flag. Others included the name of a distributor. The GRANGER brand was registered as a Trade name in 1876. The KEEN RIDGE brand has been seen on hatchets.
The Kelly Axe Mfg. Co. was also called the Kelly Axe & Tool Co. The COPPER KING brand was one of the brands used on both axes and scythes.
The labels used to identify FALLS RIVER axes and hatchets as well as RED ROVER axes and hatchets were quite similar and both brands were also sold with the distributors names conspicuously displayed.
The CHIP SLINGER brand was used on axes identified with various etchings and paper labels. The label at the right was produced with some lettering embossed.
Axes made by the Kelly Axe Mfg. Co. bearing the brand identification of WOOD SLASHER and JIM DANDY have only been reported with paper labels.
By Tom Lamond ©
Some REGISTERED markings included a date, The shield etching was used on hatchets.
Representations of some of the head styles and markings used by the Kelly Axe Mfg. Co.
Facsimiles of Kelly Axe Mfg. Co. trademarks No. 140,855, used since 1890,  and No. 223,733, issued in 1927.
     William Kelly was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., on August 21, 1811. He studied metallurgy at the Western University of Pennsylvania and initially became involved in making engines. He is reputed to have made a water wheel capable of providing some type of propulsion as well as a rotary steam engine. That apparently tied in with his interests in steamboats, an enterprise he also became involved in. In the early 1840s he had also entered into the dry goods business with his brother John and his brother-in-law, a man named McShane. That company was named McShane & Kelly. He may have just been an investor in that business. He also  established a commission business in Pittsburgh where he contracted to build different types of mechanical apparatus to order. The commission business facilities were destroyed by fire in 1845.
    Sometime around late 1845 or early 1846 William and his brother John relocated to Eddyville, Kentucky. It was there that William married Mildred Gracy of Eddyville and they started a family. William and his brother John then purchased the Eddyville Iron Works that included the Suwanee Furnace and the Union Forge. They renamed the business Kelly & Co. Some of the items the business produced were kettles for processing sugar and pig iron blooms that were supplied to other manufacturers as a basic material for further processing.
    Within a short period of time the Kelly brothers discovered there was an insufficient local supply of charcoal readily available, which in turn increased the costs of purifying the pig iron. That discovery, along with his education in metallurgy, led William to start conducting experiments in refining iron and developing more efficient foundry and forging methods.
    Apparently Kelly was not the only one conducting similar experiments around that time. Although he later proved he was the first to discover the process of sending blasts of air through molten iron, the initial credit for discovering the process went to Henry Bessemer of England. Eventually William Kelly did receive an American Patent for what was called "Kelly's Air Boiling Process" for refining iron. That was in 1857 but he never profited to the degree that the Bessemer Converter profited. In 1863 William got involved with a syndicate that organized a corporation for controlling Kelly's patents but indications are Kelly was not overly involved in the actual business. Instead he concentrated his efforts on another business, the manufacture of steel. That eventually led to the manufacture of axes with the primary principal being William’s son, William C. Kelly.
    City and Business Directory listings of the 1870s indicate that William C. Kelly was located in Louisville, Kentucky and that he was in the steel business in 1873. At that time William C. Kelly is listed in conjunction with the word "steelworks" with no mention of any other specialty or any address. Indications are that William C. was working at the steelworks at the time. In 1876 the Louisville City Directory indicates that W. C. Kelly was located at 524 Portland Street and that he was a "Mfg. of Axes." W. C. Kelly later moved to 516 W. Main with the same reference; Mfg. of Axes.
    Records indicate that William Kelly died on February 11, 1888. The following year two patents were issued to William’s son, William C. Kelly of Louisville, Kentucky. They were US (Utility) Patent No. 402,936, issued May 7, 1889, and US Design Pat. No. 19,056, issued April 23, 1889. One would expect that the patents in question may have been issued to the executor of William Kelly's estate or some other appointee considering William Kelly had already died, but in reality the patents were issued to one of Kelly's sons, named William C. Kelly.
    William Kelly, the father, had sired a number of children and his second son, born December 1, 1849, was also named William C. Kelly. No mention of “Junior” or “II” has been uncovered rein- forcing the fact that the father did not use a middle name or initial. The two patent dates noted were later included on many of the “Perfect” brand axes produced by the Kelly Axe Mfg. Co.
    By 1881 James P. Kelly, the third son of William C., was included in the directory and noted as being employed at W. C. Kelly & Co. The company by then was listed as being a manufacturer of axes and hatchets. It is believed that James became the general manager of the business in 1888. That would coincide with the year his father William C. Kelly died.
    Interestingly, W. C. Kelly had been issued a patent on September 29, 1885 for an "AX" pattern. The patent was issued as No.327,275. It was for an axe with bevels but the patent did not mention the word "Perfect" or even look like the actual design that was eventually named the PERFECT AXE. Some subsequent advertising printed in publications in the 1890s included the 1885 date on axes and apparently some axes also included the date. However, the vast majority of advertising and markings on actual Perfect Axes included two dates and possibly applied to patents by both William C. Kelly and James P. Kelly who were brothers involved in the Kelly Axe Mfg. Co.
         The last patent applicable to the PERFECT AXE was a Trade-Mark Patent. It was No.18,084 issued on June 24, 1890. It was specifically for the brand name PERFECT AXE.
  The markings on most of the examples and in most advertisements that related to the PERFECT AXE are actually inaccurate. The earliest markings include only the date May 7, 1889. The date is believed to have referred to Patent No.402,936 and/or Patent No. 402,937. It could also have applied to a patent issued the same day to James P. Kelly that was designated as Patent No.402,935.
   The other marks have May 7, 1889 along with September 23, 1889. The second date is incorrect as it is not a Tuesday and by that time US patents were only issued on Tuesdays. That practice had been in effect since 1848.
NOTE: More information on Kelly and the Perfect Axe is included in the booklet on Kelly offered on the Home Page of this website.
    In 1896 the company built a factory in Alexandria, Indiana and in 1897 all the operations relocated to that city. One of the major reasons for relocating was the supposedly abundant supply of natural gas. The management had such faith in the continuance of the company that they even relocated most of their experienced work force to Alexandria. They soon to learned that the information related to the supply of natural gas was erroneous.
    The company remained in Alexandria until 1904 when they again relocated; that time to Charleston, West Virginia. Part of the justification for the move was a more promising supply of natural gas which had become the company's major fuel used in the axe making factories. As mentioned, it was discovered that the reserves thought to be available in Alexandria were insufficient for their long range purposes. The Charleston move was to a tract of land that initially involved 25 acres along the edge of the Elk River not far from where it joins the Kanawha River. The move again involved the relocating of significant numbers of Kelly’s experienced workers to the new location.
    Shortly after the business relocated to Charleston they opened an office in New York City. New York was a much more prestigious center of commerce and the New York office aided in expanding the company into international markets.  It was around that time that the company name was changed to the Kelly Axe & Tool Co. but the use of the name Kelly Axe Mfg. Co. was also continued.
    W. C. Kelly was still listed as the president of the Kelly Axe Mfg. Co. on some documents in 1920 but this referred to the son who was also named William C. Kelly. The company was then listed as being located on the corner of Patrick and 4th Ave. Two years later, 1922, W. C. Kelly is still listed as the president with George T. Price as the V. P. and Gerard E. Kelly as the secretary. By 1930 G. T. Price was the President, Duncan Brue was the Vice President and G. T. Kelly was the Secretary/Treasurer.
    Some opinions suggest that the Kelly Axe Mfg. Co. / Kelly Axe & Tool Co. was considered small by the American Axe & Tool Co. when that conglomerate was being organized in 1889. Indications are that Kelly wasn’t even invited to join what became known as “The Axe Trust.” In retrospect that may have been a misconception either on the part of those who have recorded those opinions or by the A. A. & T. Co. Perhaps Kelly was solicited in regard to joining but declined. During the next three decades the Kelly Axe Mfg. Co. grew to be one of the major axe manufacturers in the world and provided considerable competition with the A. A. & T. Co.
    In 1921 the Kelly Axe & Tool Co. actually purchased all the holdings and equipment, along with the rights to all the brands and labels, owned by the American Axe & Tool Co. That acquisition resulted in the takeover of all the plants owned by the A. A. & T. Co. A considerable amount of equipment was relocated to Charleston which in turn resulted in a major expansion of Kelly's manufacturing facilities in that city. What had occupied approximately 25 acres in 1904 had grown to 41 acres in the late teens and then expanded to encompass approximately 60 acres after they bought the A. A. & T. Co. Manufacturing operations ran continuously around the clock and the 700 or so employees of 1921 was soon increased to around 1,000 workers.
   After the acquisition, the Kelly Axe & Tool Co. chose to manufacture some of the A. A. & T. Co. brands while continuing to manufacture those brands that they themselves had developed over the years. The purchase of the A. A. & T. Co. escalated the Kelly Axe & Tool Co. to the position of being the undisputed largest individual manufacturer of axes in the world but that was not to continue for very long.
   In 1930 the Kelly Axe & Tool Co. was purchased by the American Fork & Hoe Co. Axe production was continued under the new name of the Kelly Axe & Tool Works but at a reduced rate of production. (Note the use of the word “Works” instead of “Co.”) The American Fork & Hoe Co. eventually changed the name of the axe making division, as well as some of their other divisions, to True Temper Corp. The company headquarters initially remained in Charleston, West Virginia and was continued there until 1983 when they moved the headquarters to Cleveland, Ohio. In 1987 True Temper sold the Kelly division along with the many brand names to Barco Industries of Reading, Pennsylvania.
    During their history, the Kelly Axe Mfg. Co. marked axes with a wide variety of etchings and a wider variety of paper labels. As the etching process became more expensive, the use of paper labels increased to the point that Kelly furnished axes identified with scores of different labels. Many of the labels included the name of the distributor rather than the Kelly name. Many of the brands sold also reflected those marketed by the American Axe & Tool Co. when they were active. Eventually the application of etchings was reduced to practically nil and they converted to the Kelly Axe Mfg. Co. markings along with the paper labels; a practice that was continued by the American Fork and Hoe Co. This had become a common practice with most companies and later it was not uncommon to see the name True Temper used in conjunction with the earlier brands that Kelly and/or the A. A. T. Co. members had made famous. Because of that practice, attributing the manufacturer of a specific axe to a specific manufacturer can often be confusing. Reports indicate that those axes that were still etched were frequently processed by the Mann Edge Tool Company.
    Some of the more famous brands associated with Kelly over the years were sold with patent dates etched or stamped into the metal. Others included patent dates noted on paper labels.
    As mentioned, as the Kelly Axe Mfg. Co. grew they had added brands and increased the variety of labels that they used. Many of their brands were registered. As that process continued, it became obvious that the actual variety of different products was not consistent with the number of brands and/or labels being used. Some were registered in the U. S. Trademark Office while others were primarily used by specific distributors. In a number of cases the only purpose the label served was to differentiate one item from the same item sold to or through another distributor.
    Those items may have been identical, or as close to identical as reasonably possible at the time, especially considering the methods by which they were made. The material may have been close to the same but as it was made in batches the proportional contents of the batches varied somewhat. The individuals that fabricated the axes or hatchets may have been the same but the involvement of some hand processing also made the end results differ somewhat. Whatever the case, Kelly was producing hundreds of thousands of axes and other edge tools each year.
  As the manufacturing capability evolved and the company expanded, the various processes were performed in different departments. Apparently there was some hand processing for almost every step in the overall procedure. That bolstered the use of the term “Hand Made” for advertising purposes. In reality the major shaping was actually done by machinery. Those evolving technologies had been part of the continuously developing advancements in manufacturing. Perhaps it was the most important part. Many of the patents related to axes in the late 1800s and early 1900s were for machines that modified or improved the methods of production.
    Nevertheless the end products, even when of the same basic design, varied slightly. The three considerations were pattern, weight and finish. The choice of finish and brand helped to facilitate the sale of axes to customers with varying preferences when, in fact, the end products were substantially the same. The heads were designated by weight as well as pattern and finish and axes were frequently sold with those three considerations being of major concern.
    In regard to finishes, manufacturers offered to finish their axes in a number of ways, some of which affected the overall price. The means of identification also varied from the early simple stampings to etchings to more detailed stamped markings to paper labels. In the catalogs distributed by the larger manufacturers the options were listed. In some catalogs it was actually indicated which patterns could be ordered with what choices of brands and finishes. Kelly, like many other manufacturers, offered similar purchasing options. Of course such choices were based on purchasing minimum quantities and wholesalers would order a wide variety of axes in different weight groupings.
    It appears that in many cases the end result was that the axe or hatchet was painted whatever color was ordered. In some situations the selection involved up to five or six color choices, polished or a combination of paint and polish and possibly chemical or heat coloring. The customer also selected the brand which was then designated by affixing a label indicating the name of that brand. Many labels did not include reference to the actual maker thereby disallowing any type of warrantee by the manufacturer. That reduced costs somewhat. Other labeled axes included the manufacturer's name or a stamping showing the actual manufacturer and where they were located.
    After the Kelly Axe & Tool Co. purchased the A. A. & T. Co. they started to mix the brands that had initially been made by many of the original companies that formed the A. A. & T. Co. The A. A. & T. Co. had already done that themselves for approximately thirty years. The end result made it difficult to keep track of who made what unless one had a detailed manufacturer’s list. Some of the labels even included the original locations of the companies and not the actual location of the current manufacturer.
     In 1930 The American Fork & Hoe Company completely bought out the Kelly Axe Mfg. Co., also known as the Kelly Axe & Tool Co. That brought to an end the fifty seven year history of the Kelly Axe Mfg. Co. Although the name Kelly was continued for some time, none of the Kelly offspring are known to have been involved any longer.
     In addition to the facilities and equipment, the rights to all the brands, markings and labels owned by the Kelly Axe Mfg. Co. were transferred to the American Fork & Hoe Co. That included all the brands, markings and labels that had been acquired from the A. A. & T Co. This situation resulted in the option to use what was probably the majority of registered trademarked brands ever marketed by one company. However, many of the lesser brands were discontinued or removed from circulation as the overall total was, without question, unruly.
     In order to facilitate the acceptance of the company changeover, the American Fork & Hoe Co. operated their axe division under the name of the Kelly Axe & Tool Works. A slight difference initially, but gradually many the brand names were combined with the name True Temper. Others were discontinued or shelved. By 1949 the entire American Fork & Hoe Co. became known as True Temper and they reincorporated under that name. For legal reasons, the subsidiaries located in Canada were organized as True Temper of Canada and those that were in Australia became True Temper of Australia.
     The labels and markings depicted with this article are intended to show the wide diversification of such identifiers as used by the Kelly Axe Mfg. co. They represent what is believed to be the more common brands along with some that are less common. By no means do they include all the modified and/or special markings used on axes that the Kelly Axe Mfg. Co. made and supplied to wholesalers, major distributors and for special groups.
The 1888 Todd-Donigan Iron Co. catalog included a representation of the W. C. Kelly Standard No. 2 Boys’ Axe. The graphic above depicts the face of such an axe. Kelly painted some of their axes in eye-catching color combinations to catch the perspective buyer’s eye.
Etchings used on hatchets.
Stampings used on later versions of Kelly Mfg. Co. FLINT EDGE axes and possibly copied later by successor companies.
The WARATAH  is a flower that grows in Australia and axes with such etchings were most likely primarily marketed there.  
A booklet on Kelly is now available. Please refer to the Home Page for details. The booklet has considerably more information than on this website.
Comments, feedback and additional input are always welcome. Additional information or suggested corrections should be accompanied by verifiable sources or copies of same.
Please Contact:
Your name and location will be appreciated.
We do not provide value evaluations.
Click on one of the other topics in the menu box at the top to go to a different department or article.
   The left illustration represents those used around the late 1880s. It depicts the shape of the heads, as they were shown in the patents applicable to what became known as the PERFECT AXE. Note that the sides are relatively straight and uniform. The illustration on the right is more common and it depicts the shape of what is known as the Dayton Pattern with more of a curved cutting edge and rounded corners. The exact shape varied with some illustrations showing more rounded polls than other pattern profiles. The significant aspect of both drawings is the bevels, or webs, that were included in the heads.
Early Louisville date markings (upper 2) were correct
on etched axes. Later dates from Alexandria and Charleston (lower) were mixed up on etchings and paper labels. April 29, 1889 was not a patent issuing day.
Some etchings were uncommon and used for a limited amount of time. Some were used in conjunction with the name of a distributor.