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A Detailed History of Kennedy & Bowden Machine Co.

In 1913, a partnership was formed between David Joseph Kennedy and the Lawrence Brothers, Frank and John to be known as Kennedy and Lawrence Machine Company. Originally the firm was located on Third Ave No. in Nashville on the NE side of what is now the corner of Third Ave and Commerce Street. David Joseph Kennedy and Frank Lawrence were both machinists who had previously worked together at the Nashville Machine Company, which was then located on Third Ave No. in the approximate location of where the Bell South Tower currently stands.

Kennedy and Bowden

Critical to the formation of the partnership was the assistance of David Joseph Kennedy's brother-in-law, Jackson White Jr., who helped obtain a surplus steam engine from his employer, the Jacob's Brothers Meat Packing Company for the use of the new venture. This engine provided power to the various machine tools by means of a series of line shafts, pulleys and belts. The new company was a small scale machine shop principally engaged in small scale manufacturing jobs and repair work for the numerous printing companies located in nearby Printer's Alley. A photograph of the company from 1925 survives showing David Joseph, his son David Raymond Kennedy (Sr.) with the Jacob's Brothers steam engine on the right hand side of the photograph.

Kennedy and Bowden 1925

Eventually, David Joseph Kennedy employed his son, David Raymond Kennedy, Sr. as an apprentice machinist and printing press repairman. About 1929, the firm had outgrown its original location, causing it to relocate down Third Ave to occupy a former foundry at 134 Third Ave No. (across the street from the Bell South Tower and at the location of the current Nashville Chamber of Commerce.) The sand floor of the foundry was given an un-reinforced concrete floor.

After Frank Lawrence died, David Joseph Kennedy bought out the interests of the Lawrence Brothers and formed a new partnership with Mr. W.E. Bowden. (John Lawrence was not a machinist and did wish to remain in the business.) The new agreement left David Joseph Kennedy holding 75% of the equity and Mr. Bowden with the remainder. About that same time, David Joseph Kennedy offered his son, David Raymond Kennedy, Sr. the opportunity to purchase 25% of the business at whatever time that he was able to pay for it. The new partnership took the name Kennedy & Bowden Machine Company. Also about this time, Mrs. Jewell Kennedy MacMillion (the oldest daughter of David Joseph Kennedy) joined the company as bookkeeper and office manager.

The partnership's financial records of the 1930's show clearly the impact of the great depression on the company, which managed to stay in business when many others failed. David R. Kennedy, Sr. related that the practice at that time was for the machinist's to wait to be assigned to a job on a long bench. Jobs were then assigned to the next man on the bench regardless of seniority. Sometimes a man would get a job that lasted several days and sometimes the job would be very brief. Nonetheless, after you got a job, you went to the end of the bench to await your next turn to earn wages. This democratic method of sharing the available wages helped ensure that everyone could hold on. The owners took their cut at the end of each work after all accounts had been settled and the machinist's paid. Some weeks there was little if any money left. David R. Kennedy Sr. recalled one week when he went home to his young wife and two small children with $2.00 for his total wages that week.

By the late 1930's, David R. Kennedy, Sr. assumed the primary responsibility for operating the company although David Joseph Kennedy continued to work there. Each workday, David Joseph Kennedy would arrive at work by streetcar dressed in a suit and wearing a hat. He would then change into overalls while he did his work often ending up with his hands covered in ink as he repaired a particularly recalcitrant printing press. At the end of the day, he would change back into his suit for the trip home. A recurring order to manufacturer lead buckets and other machine parts used in the production of Nylon and Rayon at a nearby Dupont Factory was a significant contract.

At that time, Kennedy and Bowden was leasing the building in which it operated from the First National Bank in Nashville. Kennedy and Bowden occupied both floors of 134 Third Ave No, while the adjacent half of the building (138 Third Ave No) was occupied at that time by the Hermitage Printing Company. Around 1940, a change in the law required the bank to divest itself of the property, which was placed up for sale. An automobile dealership operating next door made an offer for the building that the company was not able to match. On the advice of an acquaintance, David R. Kennedy went to see a bank officer at Third National Bank. This was not his bank and he did not know the banker or even why he had been sent to see him. After hearing the situation, the banker wrote out by hand the terms of a loan by which Kennedy and Bowden Machine could buy the building from First National Bank and handed it to David R. Kennedy, Sr. He then instructed him to take the paper to his loan officer at First National Bank and if they didn't accept that offer then (referring to the loan officer at First National Bank), "He is not the banker that I think that he is." This, of course, is how the building was bought.

In 1939, David R. Kennedy, Sr. received an unsolicited offer to come to work for Nashville Machine Company to operate their company at the wages of $100 a week. This was a very attractive offer that of course, he turned down. With United States participation in World War 2 looming, David R. Kennedy Sr. was recruited to join the Navy as a commissioned Warrant Officer in the Construction Battalion "Sea-Bee's " for the purpose of running a machine shop. This was an offer that he was very keen to accept out of patriotism but eventually declined to remain at Kennedy & Bowden where his talents were irreplaceable.

He did take on a second job during the Second World War as a Machine Shop Instructor at the Hume-Fogg School in order to help provide the skilled labor needed in the war effort.

After Pearl Harbor, defense contracts poured in and qualified labor became scarce. Most young men volunteered for the service even though as trained machinist's, they were eligible for draft exemptions. Some older machinist's parlayed their talents into better paying jobs at larger companies completing defense contracts. The labor shortage was filled by hiring women and for the most part, training them to operate one machine. At the peak of the war years, Kennedy and Bowden employed three shifts working around the clock. One large, early order was the manufacture of landing gear for aircraft under construction at the nearby Vultee Aircraft Company. Even though almost all work was defense related, raw materials were extremely difficult to come by unless a priority could be obtained. Tremendous efforts were required to obtain the material that was available, sometimes through barter.

Eventually, Kennedy and Bowden became completely employed in the production of parts for the Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge, TN. This secretive work was built using government supplied drawings and government supplied materials. Government inspectors tightly controlled how each contract was completed including what could and couldn't be charged against a specific work order. Unusual materials and production processes (including cadmium coating) were required. The workers were confident that they were involved in the construction of a "Death Ray." The truth became known on October 2, 1945 when the first Atomic Bomb exploded over Hiroshima and the role of the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge was acknowledged. The owners and workers at Kennedy and Bowden took great pride in their role to produce the first atomic weapons and rightfully claimed some of the credit for ending the Second World War in the Pacific.

Upon the death of David Joseph Kennedy in 1953, a new partnership was formed between David R. Kennedy, Sr. and Mr. Bowden consistent with the previous buy-sell agreement that made them 50-50 partners in Kennedy & Bowden.

In 1955, David R. Kennedy, Jr. completed service in the United States Navy and joined his father at the firm. In 1963, they formed a father and son partnership to operate the company and buy the equity owned by Mr. Bowden. After the death of David R. Kennedy, Sr. in 1968, the company was reorganized as a corporation under the laws of the State of Tennessee and commenced operating as such on 1 January 1970.

Kennedy and Bowden

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Kennedy & Bowden Machine Company, Inc. has provided quality custom equipment and tooling to industry since 1913.
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