Thomas B. Kay

Thomas B. Kay

"Portrait & Biographical Record of the Willamette Valley Oregon." Chapman Publishing Company, 1903. p. 587.


The most important of the manufacturing institutions of Salem, Ore., is the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill, which stands as an industrial monument to business ability, zeal and energy which characterized the elder man of that name in its organization and management, and the younger man in the executive talent and ability which have placed him in the position so long occupied by his father.

Thomas Kay, father of Hon. Thomas B. Kay, was born in Shipley, near Leeds, Yorkshire, England, in 1837. Having been left fatherless at the age of nine years, he was early forced into the industrial life which characterizes that country. Entering the woolen mills in the vicinity of his home, he thoroughly learned the business. When nineteen years of age he came to the United States, locating in Trenton, N. J., where he became boss weaver in a mill. In 1863 he came to Oregon and occupied a similar position in the Brownsville mill, remaining in that capacity until the loss of the mill by fire. He then went to Salem for a short time, after which he returned to Brownsville and worked in the woolen mills until they were closed down. He then took charge of the Ashland Woolen Mills, conducting them successfully for three years, when he returned again to Salem for about eight months. He then leased the Brownsville mills in connection with Darbish & Croft, and after conducting it for two years they organized a company known as the Brownsville Woolen Mill Company and purchased the property and as superintendent conducted the concern successfully for sixteen years.

Disposing of his interest in that institution, he came to Salem in 1889 and founded the mill which is known by his name, the building then erected being about half the size of the present property, containing fourteen rooms. The business was incorporated under the name of The Thomas Kay Woolen Mills Company, and Mr. Kay was made president and manager, serving in that capacity until the mill was destroyed by fire in 1895. Nothing daunted by what to many men would have meant an irremediable misfortune, Mr. Kay at once set about the reconstruction of the plant. Within a year a modern brick building had arisen to replace the old one. It had an initial capacity of twenty looms, this number being shortly increased to its present capacity of thirty-two looms in constant operation. The present output is being constantly increased by the addition of new machinery each year. The entire mill was equipped with the most approved modern machinery, and a sprinkler system was installed as a means of protection against fire. The motive power of the mill is water. A new forty-eight-inch Leffel wheel was recently placed within the works, which has increased the capacity to the extent of about twenty-five-horse power. The product includes cassimeres, tweeds, blankets, flannels and robes, all the cloths manufactured being of the finest quality, and a considerable percentage of the output finding its way to the leading foreign markets of the world. The concern is capitalized at $100,000. The present president and manager is Thomas B. Kay, the vice-president is Squire Farrar, and the secretary and treasurer is Robert H. Coshow. The board of directors consists of Thomas B. Kay, Squire Farrar and T. L. Davidson of Salem ; J. K. Weatherford of Albany, and O. P. Coshow of Roseburg.

Thomas Kay was also interested in what was known as the Waterloo Development manager of which he was president and manager. In 1892 this company built a woolen mill at Waterloo, Linn county, Ore., which Mr. Kay operated until it was burned in 1898. For four years previous to this time it had been in the possession of the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill Company.

The death of Mr. Kay, which occurred April 28, 1899, while he was in his sixty-third year, removed from the best citizenship of Salem a staunch and public-spirited man, who had always devoted his best efforts toward the promotion of all worthy enterprises, whether of a private or public nature. He was a member of the Baptist Church of Salem, to the maintenance of which he contributed liberally. His beneficences were numerous, but in the giving of money or aid of any nature he was invariably unostentatious, Many a needy man of Salem can look back to the happy day when the kindly hand of this noble man was freely extended to him with the relief which was vital to the beneficiary. .In politics a Republican, he served in the city council, in which body he employed his best efforts toward the conservation of the high-best interests of the municipality. In Masonry he was a, member of the chapter and the commandery. He also affiliated with the Odd Fellows.

He was united in marriage in 1856 to Ann Slingsby, a native of Shipley, England, who survives him, making her home in Salem. Of the ten children born unto this estimable couple, five only are now living, namely: Fannie, wife of Charles P. Bishop, of Salem ; Thomas B., of this review ; Libbie, wife of O. P. Coshow, of Roseburg, Ore. ; Leonora, wife of C. T. Roberts, of. Portland; and Bertha, who resides with her mother.

Thomas B. Kay was born in Trenton, N. J., February 28, 1864. During the first year of his life he was brought to Oregon by his mother, who, with the other children in the family, joined his father in Brownsville. They made the journey hither by way of the Isthmus of Panama. He was educated in the public schools of Brownsville, though the years of his schooling were few. At the age of nine years he entered the Brownsville Woolen Mills as a spooler, literally grew up in the business, and, like his father, learned the art of weaving in all its intricacies. When fourteen years of age he was taken from the mills and sent to the Baptist College at McMinnville, where he remained for three years, devoting his vacations to work in the mills. When nineteen years old, he entered the Brownsville Woolen Mills store of Portland, where he remained for one year. In 1884 he went to McMinnville and engaged in the clothing business as a member of the firm of Bishop & Kay. Four years later Mr. Bishop disposed of his interest, and the firm became, known as Kay & Todd. In 1898 Mr. Kay sold his interest in the concern. In the meantime he had become connected with the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill, for which he became salesman in 1895, a short time before the burning of the mill. In 1897, after it had been rebuilt, he went to New York as the eastern representative of the company, where he remained for one season. Upon his return to the west he located in Salem and became salesman and assistant manager of the mill. Upon the death of his father two years later he assumed his present important place as manager of the concern.

The marriage of Mr. Kay occurred in McMinnville January 15, 1888, and united him with Cora Wallace, who was born near the latter city, a daughter of C. A. Wallace, an extended reference to whose identification with Oregon appears elsewhere in this volume. They are the parents of three children, Ercel W. and Marjory and an infant who died at the age of three months.

While a resident of McMinnville Mr. Kay served as a member of the city council for one term and as a member of the school board for a similar period. He is a stanch adherent of the principles of the Republican party. In 1902 he was the nominee of that party for representative in the Twenty-second biennial session of the Oregon state legislature, and was elected by a large majority. In the performance of the labors devolving upon him in connection with this office, he upheld the prime interests of his constituents, and demonstrated his fitness for such a post, where integrity means so much to the welfare of the state and the community. He is a member of the Christian Church, in which he officiates as deacon. In his fraternal relations he is a member of Pacific Lodge No. 50, A. F. & A. M., of Salem; Chapter, R. A. M., of Salem, and of DeMolay Commandery K. T., of Salem. He is also a member of the Illihee Club, of which he is one of the board of managers, and of the Salem Commercial Club. He is likewise identified with the Portland Manufacturers' Association, and is now on its directorate.

Though Mr. Kay is a comparatively young man, the conspicuous success which has attended his business career has caused him to be regarded by the discriminating citizens of Oregon as one of the most capable factors in the commercial world of the northwest. His excellent business judgment undoubtedly has been inherited to a degree from his father, though it has been developed in a great measure by reason of his varied experience I in the liberal, atmosphere of the west and among the more conservative influences of the east. He has taken a deep interest in the welfare of the two cities in which he has spent most of his life, both important commercial centers of the Willamette valley, and has shown himself to be a firm friend of such public movements or private enterprises as are calculated to promote the prosperity of the community or to elevate its moral or social status. It is with pleasure that the compilers of this work give a prominent place in the annals of humanity's best endeavor in the Willamette valley to this sapient son of an honored sire, for the name of Kay will always stand as the builder of one of the greatest monuments to industry in the northwest.


Submitted to the Oregon Bios. Project in January 2008 by Diana Smith. Submitter has no additional information about the person(s) or family mentioned above.