Kilgore Flares and Munitions                                                        A WALK THROUGH HISTORY              He...
Kilgore History	       Kilgore	Manufacturing	was	incorporated	in	1917	for	the	purpose	of 	producing	toy	cap	pis-tols.	Jose...
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September 2010: Kilgore Manufacturing

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Learn about the history of Westerville, Ohio, including local business, Kilgore Manufacturing. This newsletter was created by the Westerville Library's Local History Department.

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September 2010: Kilgore Manufacturing

  1. 1. Kilgore Flares and Munitions A WALK THROUGH HISTORY Help War Effort THE WESTERVILLE PUBLIC LIBRARY In 1929 the Flare-Signal Division of Kilgore started providing distress LOCAL HISTORY RESOURCE CENTER NEWSLETTERsignals for boats and airplanes. They became the world’s largest manufacturer September 2010of flares and signal devices. Fireworks were also produced by Kilgore. One Columbus paper’s headline proclaimed of Kilgore, “They save sail-ors and delight youngsters.” On file at the company were numerous letters of appreciation to the company from people who were rescued and saved from in-jury by using Kilgore flares. The Kilgore motto was, “Light your way to safety.” Kilgore Manufacturing The Kilgore plant in Westerville became part of the war effort when Killgore’s Cap Pistols the United States entered World War Kilgore Manufacturing was the world’s largest pro- II. Hundreds of new employees were ducer of toy cap pistols and the caps they used. By the 1950s, added as the company began to make the local company was producing millions of play guns in incendiary bombs, hand grenade fuses twelve models. Joseph Kilgore set up operations in 1919 in and flares for the navy. The operations Westerville to produce cap pistols and by the 1930s the com- were conducted in concrete block pany was making 25,000 pistols and 100,000 rolls of caps buildings scattered over the Kilgore daily. The growth of the company was amazing. property. Waste materials and defec- At first the Kilgore toy pistols were made of cast iron tive products were sent to the Kilgore but then Kilgore pioneered using Bakelite, an early plastic, farm for storage. Working with these for its toys. Later the company made plastic squirt guns inexplosive materials was very dangerous and workers were killed at the plant as different styles – a cowboy one, a futuristic space one andaccidents occurred. The company received awards from the Army and the Navy even a pocket size.for its contribution to the wartime effort. Kilgore’s toy guns were shipped overseas with its largest foreign markets being in the South American countries of Brazil and Argentina. Train loads of the popular toys would leave the commu- nity by railway car. Young people around the United States and in other countries were excited when Starting shortly after Kilgore moved to Ten- they received a Kilgore toy cap pistol as a gift. nessee and continuing for over 45 years, former employees of Kilgore gath- er for a summer picnic re- union. They had shared so OTHER TOYS PRODUCED BY many experiences working KILGORE INCLUDED: for the company especially • Cast iron toy furniture • Cast iron toy vehicles during World War II that • E-Z fly kites the bonds they forged at • Robot hands Kilgore lasted a lifetime. Page 4 Page 1
  2. 2. Kilgore History Kilgore Manufacturing was incorporated in 1917 for the purpose of producing toy cap pis-tols. Joseph D. Kilgore moved his business from Homestead, Pennsylvania to Westerville in 1919 and opened operations locally with 30 employees. The business grew, developing into a large complex on East Broadway and later also occupying land at Kilgore Employees, pre 1950600 N. Spring Rd. (presently the site of Otterbein’s Equestrian Center just north of Heritage Middle Kilgore had offices in New York City and Chicago. They had manufactur-School and North High School). ing plants in Licking County, Tipp City, Piqua and even in Canada. As time passed some of these other operations were phased out and more production was moved to Westerville. By the 1950s Kilgore was using 30% of the total water and electricity In 1921, the cap factory burned and was produced in the community, making it Westerville’s single largest user of these re-rebuilt. In order to increase production capacity by sources. It was had around 700 employees with 90% of them living in Westerville.50%, Kilgore expanded in 1923. At that time it had Many Otterbein students helped pay their way through college working part-time at175 employees and even had offices in New York Kilgore. City. Working with the gun powder to make the By 1960 the company had been sold and in December of that year operations caps was a very dangerous in Westerville shut down and gradually the plant machinery was moved to Bolivar, business and in December Tennessee. The lack of military work which had boosted production during the 1923, the newly expanded plant burned. Because the business was 1940s and into the 1950s led to the closing of the plant. When it closed the effect so profitable, a new building was quickly erected, opening three on the community was immediate. Four hundred employees either lost their jobs or weeks after the fire. It was 25% larger than the building that had had to move to Tennessee to keep them and the annual payroll of $1.5 million was just burned. lost to Westerville and its business community. Through the 1930s and 1940s, Kilgore branched out. They made cast iron toys including pieces of doll house furniture The Kilgore Farm which sold for a nickel. Among their popular products were cast iron penny banks in different shapes with moveable parts – put in a penny and the owl would Today the site of Otterbein’s new Equestrian Center, the Kilgore Farm on Spring Rd. pro-blink its eye or the turtle would move its head. In 1935 the company began to make plastic vided the Kilgore company a location to conduct research and also to store waste material from housewares called Shel-glo. The production of these items continued until 1955. Many fami- its manufacturing operations. Given to Otterbein College in the early 1960s, after Kilgore moved to Tennessee, the site has been the subject of some controversy. The site was heavily contami-lies had picnic baskets filled with brightly colored Shel-glo plates and cups made in Wester- nated with the industrial waste and required that 120 tons of explosives be destroyed in one of ville. the largest operations of that kind in the U.S. during the 1960s. For many years the old farmhouse on the land was the home of the Jaycees very popular Halloween haunted house which attracted people from all over Central Ohio. Now with the land cleared of farm buildings and the house, the Otterbein equine program is making good use of the location. Page 2 Page 3

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