The Kelly Axe and Tool Company, at one time the largest ax manufacturer in the world, operated in Charleston for nearly 80 years. Founder William C. Kelly (1849–1933) began making axes in Kentucky in 1874 and later moved operations to Indiana. Drawn to Charleston by the area’s transportation facilities and abundant natural gas, Kelly Axe acquired a 53-acre site extending west from Patrick Street on June 30, 1904, and constructed a factory complex that eventually included about 50 buildings. The manufacture of scythes began in January 1905, and ax production started shortly thereafter. The company later added other edged tools.
Kelly Axe was one of the first large industries in the Kanawha Valley and for many years provided jobs for several hundred men and women. The company used some immigrant labor; in 1910, for example, most of the company’s ax grinders were natives of Poland or Russia. Kelly Axe became part of American Fork and Hoe Company in July 1930. In 1949, the company changed its name to True Temper, the brand name long used for its products. Despite name changes, Charlestonians continued to refer to the large operation as Kelly Axe. True Temper’s Kelly works declined after the mid 1960s and closed on May 28, 1982.
This Article was written by Mary Johnson
Last Revised on October 07, 2010
Goodall, Elizabeth J. The Charleston Industrial Area: Development, 1797-1937. West Virginia History, (Oct. 1968).