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Thomas Kay
 

Thomas Lister Kay, 1837-1900, the founder of Salem's Thomas Kay Woolen Mill arrived in Oregon in 1863. He was responsible for much of Salem's early industrial growth and the development of the the textile industry in Oregon. 

Born in 1837 in England, he had an early background in woolen mill operations. Built in 1889, the original Thomas Kay mill building burned in 1895 and was
replaced the next year by the present four story brick building. Kay was succeeded in management of the mill by son Thomas Benjamin Kay (four times state treasurer), grandson Ercel Kay, (founder of the Salem Golf course), and great grandson Thomas Kay Jr. (a Salem businessman). The mill closed in 1959 and became the centerpiece of the Mission Mill Museum, 1313 Mill St SE in Salem.

Thomas Lister Kay was born near Leeds in Appleby, England in 1837 and went to work in the woolen mills at age 10. In 1857 he sailed for America and used his textile mill experience on the East Coast. Recruited to work at the Brownsville, Oregon Mill in 1863, he became a partner. He moved to Salem in 1888 and founded the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill Company in 1889, fulfilling his boyhood dream of establishing a mill of his own. Mr Kay and his wife, Ann Slingsby Kay and their large family became permanent residents of the capitol city in 1888. 

The new state-of-the-art factory opened in a wooden building on March 13, 1890. It was the largest woolen mill in the state with 50 mill workers. During his first five years, Kay paid dividends of 55 percent of the original investment. Sadly on November 18th, 1895, fire destroyed the mill in an hour and a half. However Kay's ability and reputation brought immediate pledges for the necessary funds to complete the present brick mill in one year. Kay's goal was to establish a mill producing a high quality product using the most modern, up-to-date machinery. 

When he died in 1900, he was gaining a prizewinning reputation for his quality fabric. The Kay mill paid high dividends between 1900 and 1925, declined in 1930's, but boomed during World War II. Suffering from an aging plant and unable to compete with synthetic fabrics, the mill closed in 1959.  It remains one
of the few North American mills where direct-drive water power is demonstrated. Thomas Kay was like many of the early industrialists of his time: men of little education, but bright and with a driving urge to succeed. He lived to see his dream accomplished. His son, Thomas B. Kay, his grandson, Ercel Kay, and his great grandson Thomas Kay Jr. carried on this fine tradition as long as possible. The Kay family name will always be kept alive at the Mission Mill Museum site. 

Kay, Thomas B. 1864-1931. Son of Thomas and Ann Slingsby Kay, T. B. Kay was president of the Kay Woolen Mill, 1900-1931, and also served in the Oregon Legislature. He was State Treasurer for three terms, 1910-1918 and 1924-1931.

Bibliography:
Thomas Kay, Salem Public Library, historic photo collection HRE2

Mission Mill Museum, Thomas Kay Woolen Mill, Self Guided Walking Tour, no date given

Historic Marion, Marion County Historical Society, March 1989, Vol 27, No. 4, Salem, Or. Source: Salem Public Library, Salem History scrapbook, 979.5

Spinning and weaving wool, page 1. Around, page 1, Mission Mill Museum Association, page 1. Source: Salem Public Library, pamphlet files R ANC 2961.

Thomas L. Kay gravestone, photo by Al Jones. Source: Salem Public Library, historic photo collection JD HRE 3

 

 
Thomas Kay
Thomas Kay
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Thomas Kay gravestone
Thomas Kay gravestone
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