K.R. Wilson Tools Biography

K.R. Wilson, Inc. was founded by the late Kirke R. Wilson in the village of Arcade, New York in 1920. Following his death in 1948, the corporation, under the leadership of his brother and sister, carried on the machine tool and special automotive took business. Over time the business concentrated more on hydraulic equipment and less on automotive repair tools. Finally it was sold to outside ownership and lost as a separate entity. But while it functioned under K.R. Wilson, it was responsible for efficiently keeping millions of Ford cars on the road.

The rise of the firm and its significance in America's industrial development is a most unusual saga. Kirke R. Wilson's automotive experience began with the early steam and gasoline driven cars. During 1905 through 1907, he operated the first modern garage in Arcade. He held Ford, Buick, and Michigan "40" dealership franchises from 1909-1911, and in addition sold and installed gasoline lighting systems over an area of 100 miles. Manufacturing of Ford automobile accessories was carried on for a year in Arcade, and then transferred to Buffalo where the business was to continue at 732 Main Street until 1915. During 1918, he designed the first "Service Tools" for Ford cars and also did servicing of cars at his garage at 1018 Main Street, Buffalo. During this period he hired his tools made at 10 Lock Street, in the same city, and there he eventually set up his office.

K.R. Wilson continued to invent, perfect and manufacture these Ford service tools increasing quantities, selling to Ford dealers through direct mail advertising and displays at auto shows. Meanwhile, he resolved to erect a factory in Arcade. This new industry was opened August 3, 1920, and consisted of a machines hop and foundry. In 1923, he added another building; and this was repeated in 1924, 1926, and 1927. In 1921, there appeared from eh Wilson plant the famed KRW combination machine that revolutionized the methods then used for rebuilding Ford engines. "With this machine" reported an observer, "it was made so easy to rebore crank shaft and camshaft bearings that the Combination became as indispensable to Ford dealers as anvils were to blacksmiths."

During the years 1925 and 1926, K. R. Wilson sold the Ford Motor Company, and Henry Ford himself, the idea of a complete service system for Ford's franchised garages and agencies all over the world. The story is told that Mr. Wilson was visiting a small Kansas town in 1926 when he received a wire from the Ford organization to report to Detroit for consultation. The Kansas train station there was not a scheduled stop for a certain Santa Fe passenger train but Wilson was determined to reach Michigan as soon as possible. He built a bonfire upon the track by burning newspapers and with the additional aid of a lantern flagged the train to a halt. The conductor was exceedingly angry over the delay and the many laws that Mr. Wilson had violated, but he allowed him to get aboard. The next day he reached Dearborn, Michigan, where he met Henry Ford. During his stay with the great industrialist, K.R. demonstrated what his tools would do and a bargain was struck which united KRW tools with the Ford Empire. Through all these years, K. R. had the invaluable advice and technical skill of his brother, Frank C. Wilson, and of Grant Sillman.

The Wilson firm stayed in close collaboration with the Ford firm for a quarter of a century. In 1948, the Wilsons achieved what was hailed as a near-miracle of manufacturing when they designed and manufactured complete sets of desirable service tools for all Ford branch schools in just 21 days from blueprints to finished units. This achievement was necessitated by the appearance of an entirely redesigned motor car, the 1949 Ford. Once these tools were accepted, sufficient sets were produced in less than five months and delivered to 85% of the Ford dealerships in the United States. Wilson produced hundreds of thousands of special tool items for every model of Ford, Mercury, Lincoln, and Ford trucks, and these KRW products are scattered all over the world.

To Frank C. Wilson goes the credit for the design and production of the first of a complete line of hydraulic presses that were originally developed for garage use. These first units were hand-operated and were sold to assist dealers in the many bending and straightening operations required of garage men. These presses were brilliantly designed and found ready acceptance within a few years. Mr. Wilson modified and improved these devices until he produced a line of hydraulic power presses rated to hundred of tons capacity for all types of manufacturing operations. Many of these larger units were shipped under Lend-Lease to allied governments all over the world in the early 1940s. The K.R. Wilson facilities were involved 100% in war production after 1941, and during the following years the firm produced thousands of different types of tools and hydraulic presses for all branches of the Armed Forces. The Wilson designed and built shell loading presses that enabled ordnance workers to load artillery shells and incendiary bongs far faster and with a greater degree of safety than ever before. It is of historic interest to note that the incendiary bombs dropped on Tokyo by Jimmie Doolittle were loaded on Wilson's shell-loading presses. It is further a part of the firm's war record that every Navy ship of the line housing a machine shop was equipped with a KRW press.

In addition, the Wilson factory in Arcade built one of the first successful mechanical refrigeration systems under the trade name of "Mechana-Kold". Other prominent products were gasoline engine driven generating systems, gasoline engine driven industrial power units and marine engine conversions for boats.

After World War II, the firm continued the manufacture of service tools and the building of custom presses used in many branches of industry from aircraft to woodworking. These post-war presses were made up to a rated 800 tons capacity.

The main office of the firm was moved from Lock Street to 215 Main Street, Buffalo, where the business was conducted under the personal supervision of Mr. Wilson until his death on September 25, 1948. Mr. Wilson died at the age of 59 while on a business trip to Detroit, and was buried at Arcade. In addition to his Arcade holdings, Mr. Wilson held extensive oil properties in Pennsylvania, and owned the Marsh Valve Co., Inc., Dunkirk, N.Y. At various times in his eventful career he had ownership of other industrial plants. This engineering and inventive career which began with his interest in repairing bicycles in his youth, rose to heights largely because of Kirke R. Wilson's almost limitless determination and his power to work up to twenty hours a day, if need be. The industry that he founded has been one of the more important economic factors in the business life of Arcade, and furnished employment to hundreds during its thirty-seven year career.

Thank you to the Model "A" Ford Foundation, Inc. for this article on KR Wilson.