Ken-Tool, a leading manufacturer of professional tire service hand tools, will be celebrating an important milestone in 2015 – the 95th anniversary of the founding of the company by John A. (Jack) Kennedy in 1920.
Kennedy, a world champion tire changer of the period, developed the Pacific Rim Tool, which revolutionized the tire service business. He formed a company to market the tool, and won endorsement from the B.F. Goodrich Co., which began marketing the tool to tire shops and service stations throughout the country. At a time when the automotive industry was growing, and the need to change tires was frequent, the tool became a godsend to the businesses which serviced cars, trucks and their tires.
However, Kennedy’s growing business did not have manufacturing capabilities, and he partnered with J. Frank Kemmerline of the Cornwell Tool Co. and founded the Kennedy Tool Company in 1925. During the first year of operation in 1926, the company shipped more than 120,000 copies of the Pacific Rim Tool worldwide. The Kennedy-Kemmerline partnership survived through the Depression years, but disagreements about expansion of the company’s product offerings to non-tire industry markets led Kennedy to leave the company in 1938.
Kennedy joined with John Lydle of Rittman Tool and Forge Co. (Rittman, Oh.) to create a new company, Ken-Tool. However, Kennedy died six months later, and Lydle assumed control of Ken-Tool.
Leading up to, and following World War II, Ken-Tool and Kennedy Tool were bitter rivals, and both prospered, as between them, they effectively controlled the market for tire service tools. During World War II, Ken-Tool won several prestigious “Army-Navy E Awards” for the development of tools and products for the military effort. Both companies competed against each other, but Ken-Tool was solely focused upon the tire service market.
In 1956, Kemmerline sold Cornwell Tool, and two years later, Ken-Tool purchased Kennedy Tool from Cornwell’s new owners. For a while, both companies continued to move on their chosen paths, but eventually combined their product lines, but used separate sales groups and distributors.
Ken-Tool continued to focus on the tire service industry, and helped revolutionize the tire changing industry with one of the first tire changing machines, the Ken-Tool Gyro-Matic.
In 1966, Lydle sold the company to Cooper Industries (Houston, Tex.), and Ken-Tool became the seed for the Cooper Tool Group, which eventually comprised several other prominent brands – Crescent (wrenches and hand tools), Lufkin (measuring tools) and Weller (soldering equipment). By the early 1970s, Ken-Tool had discontinued the Kennedy company, and concentrated upon its own products, plus selling the other Cooper Tool lines through its distribution network. In 1974, the Cooper era ended when the parent company sold Ken-Tool to Warren Tool Corp. (Warren, Oh.).
Warren Tool Co. provided the automotive service market with its line of Columbian Vises, Warren Striking Tools and Hargrave Clamps. Ken-Tool was established as an autonomous division, but the Ken-Tool sales and distribution network provided Warren Tool with a well-established system that could sell and invoice the various brands together. Warren Tool ownership lasted for 20 years, ending in 1994.
Warren Tool sold the other three lines, and Ken-Tool emerged as an independent company again.
Throughout its history, Ken-Tool remained an Akron-based company. The company’s current headquarters and manufacturing facility on Akron’s East North Street, produces 95 percent of the company’s product line, and boasts an impressive array of production press, drop and upsetter forging equipment.
Additionally, Ken-Tool makes its own production tooling in-house, using computer numeric control (CNC) machining centers for shorter lead times and full control of dies and other tooling. Ken-Tool also has in-house heat-treating capabilities.
Quality product control is paramount at Ken-Tool. The company recently received ISO 9001:2008 certification for its internal quality control systems. The company utilizes computer-aided design (CAD) to precisely engineer product dies and tooling, plus utilizes digital product testing equipment to assure product quality. Ken-Tool effectively utilizes the talents of a number of Six Sigma trained employees to analyze and solve quality issues, and also utilizes Tier 3 Production Part Approval Process (PPAP) to further monitor product quality.
Recently, Ken-Tool quietly launched a new division, Summit Tool and Forging, as a Tier 1 supplier to the automotive, military and marine markets. Summit Tool and Forging operates from the Ken-Tool facility, utilizing the same personnel, equipment and quality control procedures as its parent company.