The objects in this accession were all produced by the Keeler Brass Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Through much of the 20th century Keeler was a major manufacturer of brass and other metal hardware for the furniture and automotive industries, as well as the military. These items illustrate the wide variety of work done by Keeler, from artistic pieces to functional ones. Their significance lies in their ties to a local Grand Rapids company with an international reputation for innovation and quality.
This particular piece is a decorative paperweight with the symbol of the Mercedes-Benz automobile, which may have been a client of the Keeler Brass Company.
3/4"" h 3"" w 3"" d
Gift of the Grand Rapids Public Library, Grand Rapids History & Special Collections
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Grand Rapids Public LibraryKeeler Brass CompanyMiddleville, Michigan and Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Source: Keeler Since 1893
1893: Company founded.
1901: Company moves operations to Grand Rapids to be closer to furniture industry.
1911: The Keeler Building is built at Division Ave. and Fountain St. and later expanded in 1913. The building was originally built as a showroom building in which local manufacturers leased space for the city's annual furniture expositions.
1914: Keeler supported the war effort in WWI by manufacturing rifle and revolver cartridges as well as belt fasteners for the United States armed forces.
1921: Keeler added a wooden screw division to production. Keeler was the first screw maker outside of the east coast. By 1922, Keeler was named the most modern screw maker in the world due to their heavy investments in innovative machinery.
1922: The Keelers were key investors in building the first major hotel in downtown Grand Rapids. The hotel was intended to be the center of the furniture business in the United States. Today, the hotel holds retail stores and housing.
1931-1932: Total sales were halved as a result of the reverberating effects of the Great Depression. During these years, Keeler forged ahead in technology, culminating in the development of the stainless steel handle for Studebaker and Ford. This allowed Keeler to remain competitive; carrying Keeler through Hoover's Reconstruction Period.
1938: Keeler experienced a large increase in sales due to government contracts in World War II. Keeler produced canteens and other metal items for the United States armed forces. Because of this, Keeler was able to employ more than 1,400 people.
1951: Three years after implementing die casting, Keeler's investments in machinery and innovation earned it the title "the most modern zinc die casting plant in the world." Die-casting was cleaner and less expensive than sand casting and created a very strong part.
1959: The Keeler building in downtown Grand Rapids housed seven government agencies in WWII. It was sold in 1959. At the time, it was the largest office building in Grand Rapids.
1962: Mike and Mary Ann Keeler, the owners of Keeler from 1962-1979, were strongly supportive of modern arts and philanthropy. In 1969, they contributed to the acquisition of the famous La Grande Vitesse. They also donated $7.5 million to the music and performing arts center that is now called the DeVos Performance Hall.
1975: The American Box Board Company was a joint tenant with Keeler in a facility located downtown Grand Rapids. In 1975, a fire at the American Box Board Company caused an estimated loss of half a million dollars to the Keeler building and inventory.
1976: Keeler created a 1/23 size model of the La Grande Vitesse, an iconic sculpture in Grand Rapids, and the Keeler family donated it to the city. It was created so that blind visitors could "see" the sculpture in its entirety.
1979: For the first time, Keeler is no longer owned by the Keeler family. Miner S. 'Mike' Keeler sold the remaining part of the company for $75 million. Still acting as CEO, he remained heavily involved in Keeler.
1981: In 1981, Keeler became the largest manufacturer of hardware for North America's furniture industry.
1989: Keeler purchased and restored a historical landmark at 1006 North Main St. High Point, NC. The house dates to 1905 and was renovated to mirror its glory days. Throughout the years, many architectural features had been hidden. Renovators discovered old pocket doors made of crafted oak. The house still serves as a showroom for Keeler.
1993: Keeler starts the Joe Withers endowment for Kendall College of Art and Design. Keeler has kept close ties with Kendall over the years, employing many Kendall Alumni as designers and modelers.
2008: In 2006, a large portion of Keeler operations moved to Nashville, TN. In December 2008, Keeler moved back to Grand Rapids.
2009: JVA Associates purchased the company, making Keeler a privately held company for the first time since 1979. As a result of new ownership, Keeler has experienced huge growth by expanding their investments in technology and new product designs.
2013: To celebrate their 120th anniversary, Keeler reintroduced the Keeler Lizard which was first created in 1898. It has been presented as a gift to friends and colleagues four times in the last century.
2017: The Keeler Building is added to the National Register of Historic Places.