June 10, 2014

Kaul Glove Factory / Robert Keller Ink Co.

Nestled amongst century-old homes, a playground, and a sandwich shop, there is a side street in Corktown so quiet that I sometimes forget that there is a four-story factory standing there. Letters attached to the vacant building, at 1441 Brooklyn Street, read, "ON HAND SINCE 1912 - KAUL GLOVE CO.", but its first occupant was the Robert Keller Ink Company in 1917.

Robert Keller Ink Co.

Image from an advertisement in a 1918 Detroit city directory.

Robert Keller was born in Germany on July 29, 1860, six months before his family moved to Switzerland, where he lived until he was 21. Keller immigrated to the United States in 1881 and settled in Detroit two years later. He was employed by various drug stores until he ultimately owned his own business. In 1886, Keller married Sarah Grace McConville, with whom he had two children who survived infancy: George Robert and Edwin Charles.


Robert Keller began to manufacture ink out of the basement of his drug store at the corner of Third Street and Warren Avenue in 1886, experimenting with and improving his formulas. What began as a side business became his full-time occupation with the incorporation of the Robert Keller Ink. Co. in 1899. In addition to ink, Keller made sealing wax and "mucilage", which is just a nauseating word for glue. Keller's business outgrew several factories, including one on Fort Street east of 12th Street. The company finally found a suitable home in Corktown with the construction of a modern building during World War I.

"A Model Factory"


Work began on the building in February of 1917. In addition to factory space, it housed the company's offices and laboratories. The structure was designed by the architecture and engineering firm Preston, Brown & Walker, and it was estimated to cost $30,000. The four-story building measures 80 feet by 40 feet and covers approximately 20,000 square feet of floor space, including the basement. Keller wanted a "model factory" with all modern amenities, including automatic fire doors, sanitary drinking fountains, "noiseless" mastic flooring, an inter-department telephone system, and a two-ton electric elevator.

Robert Keller died June 9, 1932 in Windsor, Ontario.

Kaul Glove & Manufacturing Co.

The Kaul Glove and Manufacturing Co. traces its origins to the incorporation of the Cravanette Glove and Manufacturing Co. on December 3, 1912. Its founding board of directors was Peter R. Will, Julius Robinson, and George P. Kaul. Kaul, who was just 22 years old when Cravanette was incorporated, would ultimately control the company. Through a series of acquisitions and name changes, the Cravanette Glove and Manufacturing Co. ultimately became the Kaul Glove and Manufacturing Co.

The Kaul Glove and Manufacturing Company in 1976.
Courtesy Michigan State Historic Preservation Office.

I am not able to research a detailed timeline of the factory's ownership for the time being, but I can say that Keller Inks occupied the property as late as 1936, and Kaul Glove was here as early as 1952. George P. Kaul died on December 31, 1976 at the age of 86, and the building is now affiliated with Michael George Conniff Jr, whose grandfather, Alphonsus John Conniff, was a business partner of Mr. Kaul. In 1998, Kaul Glove was acquired by the Choctaw-Kaul Distribution Company, which operates on Vinewood Street in southwest Detroit. Michael Conniff serves as that company's Chief Financial Officer.

Although the building is very quiet today, it is evidently maintained--taxes are paid and graffiti is cleaned up. In my opinion, this would be the perfect location for condo lofts, similar to the nearby Sixth Street Lofts and the Grinnell Place Lofts. This seems like the right time for such a project.