Keyston Brothers History

In 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 million.

James 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 production.

Open 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.

In 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.

In 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 days.

In 1906 Keyston Brothers moved into the saddle making business and bought out the J.C Johnson Co., Saddlery. Approximately 4 years later in 1912 Keyston Brothers purchased Main Winchester & Stone Saddlery also F. S. Johnson Co., Saddlery in 1914 they purchased Harpham & Jensen Leather and Shoe Findings Company. After acquiring W. Davis & Sons in 1925, Keyston Brothers was the largest manufacturer of Saddles & Harness on the West Coast.

Following World War I, saddlery and harness-makers fell on hard times and while some went under, some continued to be 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. This became the largest contributor to the Keyston business and extended Keyston Bros. operations to every state in the union.

It 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.

The 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.

This automotive growth, spearheaded by vinyl-coated fabrics, 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.

The 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.

During 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.

Upholstery 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.

Keyston Brothers makers mark Keyston Brothers saddle makers mark

Keyston Brothers buffalo makers mark Keyston Brothers buffalo saddle makers mark

Keyston Brothers old diamond makers mark Keyston Brothers name plate

Keyston Brothers building