Ken Tool has been focusing on tire-related tools for 100 years, including safer ways to move...

Ken Tool has been focusing on tire-related tools for 100 years, including safer ways to move larger tires. 

Photo: Ken Tool

For a century, Ken-Tool has been a manufacturer of tire service tools, maintaining a constant focus on adapting to technological changes that are constantly occurring in the world of tire repair. Headquartered in Akron, Ohio, Ken-Tool is housed in a 75,000 square foot facility. 

Ken-Tool is a primary manufacturer of product, with its manufacturing expertise centered around drop hammer, upsetter, and press forging. The company goes to market through the traditional aftermarket distribution network.

The company also does contract forging for various companies both in and outside its industry.

Check out a video all about the manufacturers history: 

The company has a long and storied history since its inception in 1920 when John A. Kennedy, self-proclaimed “tire changing champion of the world,” invented the Pacific Rim Tool. This revolutionary tire changing tool, endorsed by The B. F. Goodrich Company, began selling to garages and tire shops throughout the country. At the time, Kennedy had no manufacturing capability, so in 1925 he formed a partnership with J. Frank Kemmerline of the Cornwell Tool Company, and officially started the Kennedy Tool Company, with the now-famous Pacific Rim Tool as its primary product. Throughout 1926, the company shipped more than 120,000 of these unique tools from plants in Ohio and Birmingham, England, through the export division of General Motors.  Over the next 12 years, the aftermarket grew, and so did the Kennedy Company, with new tire service tools and equipment. 

In 1938 the Ken-Tool Company was founded when Kennedy left the original business to partner with John Lydle, owner of The Rittman Tool and Forge Company in Rittman, Ohio.  But within six months of the start of this new venture Kennedy died, and John Lydle took full control of Ken-Tool.

During World War II, Ken-Tool developed a special tool to remove tires from the rims of B-29 bombers. This was a unique and costly problem for the Air Corps because of the tremendous heat generated when landing in Northern Africa. Before this tool was developed, planes were literally grounded in the desert because there was no way to remove their tires, which had actually cured themselves to the rims. Lydle received his first patent for this rim tool and was awarded the Army E award by the War Department. A second E Award was earned by Ken-Tool for manufacturing forged firing pins for large guns, and an unprecedented third E Award was given for developing special tire and wheel tools for Jeeps and other military vehicles.

As the 40s ended, Ken-Tool prospered. With John Lydle’s continued focus on the development and introduction of more tire changing tools supported by a strong market presence at national and regional trade shows as well as innovative promotional and merchandising activities, Ken-Tool began to rapidly capture market share, and soon became the dominant supplier in the marketplace.

In 1956 a major event took place that would play a dramatic roll in Ken-Tool’s future: Frank Kemmerline sold the Cornwell Tool Company. The new company’s focus was the manufacture of mechanic’s hand tools sold through captive mobile distribution. In 1958, Cornwell Tool sold its Kennedy Tool Company to none other than Ken-Tool. John Lydle now owned and operated both companies and gained complete control of the U. S. tire tool business. He continued to operate the two companies separately, allowing the market to believe they were still two separate, competing companies.

Kennedy Tool, now under John Lydle’s direction, continued to expand its offerings by adding allied product lines from other manufacturers. Ken-Tool on the other hand, continued its focus on tire changing, and soon introduced one of the first tire changing machines in the industry, the Ken-Tool Gyro-Matic. Finally, in the late 50s, Lydle combined the Kennedy and Ken-Tool product lines. Both companies offered the same product lines, but sold them through separate sales organizations and distributors. In those days of exclusive distribution rights, it was not uncommon to sell Ken-Tool to distributor A on an exclusive basis, and sell Kennedy Tool to distributor B across the street, also on an exclusive basis!

The 60s and 70s brought about much turmoil and change for both America and Ken-Tool. In May of 1966, 28 years after founding Ken-Tool, John Lydle sold the company to Cooper Industries of Houston, Texas. Ken-Tool was the third non-energy service venture of Cooper and their first hand tool acquisition. In 1970, Ken-Tool became one of the original members of the Cooper Tool Group, along with Crescent hand tools, Weller soldering guns and Lufkin tape measures and rules. In 1971 Ken-Tool began selling these products to the automotive aftermarket as Cooper’s only aftermarket distribution arm. As Ken-Tool became “Cooper-ized,” other significant changes began to take place. Most of the non-Cooper buy-for-resale items were dropped from the line as focus was placed on those items of Ken-Tool’s manufacture. In 1972, the Kennedy brand of product was discontinued for good. The Ken-Tool line was now 95% product of its own manufacture, one brand, and a springboard to sell other Cooper products to the aftermarket.

As Cooper Industries continued its acquisition activities, the companies it bought were less and less oriented toward the automotive aftermarket.  In April 1974, Ken-Tool was sold to Warren Tool Corporation in Warren, Ohio, a small, privately-owned manufacturer of vises, clamps and heavy striking tools. Under Warren Tool, Ken-Tool quickly dropped the Cooper product lines, replacing replaced them with those of its new sister divisions, Columbian vises, Warren striking tools, and Hargrave clamps. Three years later, Warren acquired Kal-Equip Company, a manufacturer of automotive diagnostic test equipment, and formed a new organization, The Warren Automotive Group. Now a customer could buy five different product lines from one source, all sold and marketed, shipped and billed by one organization.  But, after several frustrating years in the test equipment business, Warren Tool made the decision to sell Kal-Equip and re-establish Ken-Tool as a free standing, autonomous division of the Warren Tool Corporation. That structure continued until 1994, when all other Warren Tool operations were sold, leaving Ken-Tool as an entirely independent company.

About the author
Staff Writer

Staff Writer


Our team of enterprising editors brings years of experience covering the fleet industry. We offer a deep understanding of trends and the ever-evolving landscapes we cover in fleet, trucking, and transportation.  

View Bio