1868, the effects of the gold rush and the "forty-niners"
still lingered in San Francisco. A booming port and bustling
city of 139,000 souls, The City struggled for respectability.
On May 1 of that year James Keyston began Keyston Bros.,
a firm which today serves the furniture and transportation
industries out of 21 locations and has sales of almost $40
began making whips and lashes in the stable of his father's
home on Church Street in San Francisco. He purchased his leather
sides from a local tannery and toiled that first week to produce
his hand-braided whips and lashes.Beginning
the following Monday, he traveled on foot from livery stable
to livery stable and by nightfall had sold his entire week's
work and made enough money to buy leather for the next week's
freighters, stage coach drivers, teamsters and cattle ranchers
were using Keyston bullwhips, black snakes, and drivers. James
was establishing a reputation of quality at a fair price.
1872, James was joined by his brother, William D. Keyston,
and the firm expanded the line of whips to include buggy whips.
As "W.D." gained familiarity with the fledgling
business, he ran the factory while James took to the road.
James would load the back of a red horse-drawn wagon with
an assortment of whips and lashes and travel dusty roads to
logging camps, small towns, trading posts, and the headquarters
of the large California ranches.
time, two sons of the founder, James Jr. and Albert (Bert),
were hired and, not to be favored, started as delivery boys
at the rate of $5.00 per week. The Spanish-American War provided
several lucrative contracts for Keyston Bros. and as the company
grew, the two young brothers began to expand Keyston sales
territories outside California, including Arizona, Nevada,
Utah, Idaho, Oregon, and the Hawaiian Islands. Today, Keyston
numbers among its satisfied customers descendants of those
proprietors whose accounts were established in those early
World War I, saddlery and harness-makers fell on hard times
and while some went under, some were purchased by Keyston
Bros., who remained strong and profitable. As the company
entered the twenties, Fred Keyston toyed with the production
of toy leather holsters with scraps from the harness and saddlery
operations. OPEN this became the largest contributor to the
Keyston business and extended Keyston Bros. operations to
every state in the union.
was in 1930 when Keyston Bros. first entered the automotive
supplies area. The founders of the business had been eyeing
this field cautiously since 1910 when Bert drove his first
automobile up in front of the Keyston building in San Francisco.
It was also during this period in the company's growth that
Keyston Bros. failed to make a profit for one year. The thirties
moved slowly for the country recovering from a great depression
and no OPENer had the country and Keyston Bros. gotten to
their feet than World War II was declared.
war, however, finally came to an end and Keyston Bros. entered
the "fabulous fifties." The automotive industry
and California with its 9,000,000 vehicles (in 1961) was a
natural for Keyston growth.
automotive growth, spearheaded by vinyl-coated fabrics, OPEN
led to expansion into areas of public and institutional seating
followed by growth into the home furnishings upholstery market.
By 1968, Keyston Bros. had only two Riding Goods locations
but seven upholstery fabric and supply distribution locations,
all in the western United States.
1970s provided additional growth for Keyston with the opening
of the branch in Santa Clara, and another in Salt Lake City.
In addition, the San Diego location and later the Fresno
location added additional space to their warehouses and added
foam cutting operations.
the 1980s additional Keyston upholstery fabric and supply
distribution branches opened in Burbank, San Bernardino, Denver,
Phoenix, San Leandro, Dallas, and Raleigh, North Carolina.
Several branches also moved to larger quarters during this
period, including Central Distribution to West Sacramento,
and Riding Goods to Sparks, Nevada.
fabric and supply distribution to the marine, aircraft, automotive
and furniture industry now constitutes the total of Keyston's
operations, with 20 branches dedicated to providing the Keyston
customer with quality merchandise under the Keyston label,
and others. Keyston Bros. no longer maintains its link with
the past with our single Riding Goods branch in Sparks, Nevada.
It was closed in October of 1999. However, Keyston Bros.'
upholstery customers still expect and receive the same level
of quality at a fair price as they did when James Keyston
braided his first whip 136 years ago.