For over 80 years, The Walter T. Kelley Company has been manufacturing high quality beekeeping equipment worldwide with exceptional value and legendary customer service. Mr. Kelley started his beekeeping business in Houma, Louisiana which was called Gulf Coast Apiaries, but later changed to Gulf Coast Bee Company. He supplied package bees and hives locally on a small scale. Mr. and Mrs. Kelley met while in Louisiana and in 1926 they were married. She was a splendid life partner who saw him through the tough and trying times of business and life. After Wall Street crashed in 1929, they decided that manufacturing would be more profitable, and after several years of outrageous freight rates across the Mississippi River pushed a move to Kentucky.
In 1934, with little cash but a lot of perseverance, they tore down the old factory buildings and reopened the business in Paducah, Kentucky as The Walter T. Kelley Company. Wanting to begin an ad campaign that would attract the attention of the consumer, Mr. Kelley decided to replace the head of a bee with his picture. In 1938, the idea of the “Bee Man” Trademark was registered. His remark was “Make a fool of yourself and people will remember you.” “Kelley—the Bee Man” soon became a well-known symbol in the beekeeping world and greatly contributed to the growth of the business. In 1938, a Sewing Department was added, in 1939, double boilers and extractors were added along with wired foundation, followed by capping melters in 1941. In 1944, Mr. Kelley took over publication of The Beekeepers Item, a national beekeeping magazine. In August 1946, the name was changed to Modern Beekeeping.
In the late 1950s, the federal government announced a half-billion dollar atomic plant would be located in McCracken County, on the site of the Old Kentucky Ordinance Plant, not far from Paducah. With labor talent in short supply, he began construction of a new manufacturing plant in Grayson County and in November 1952, an office/shipping structure and factory buildings were erected and ready to be equipped with production machinery. So with his semi-truck loaded, Mr. Kelley moved the factory’s goods 160 miles to Clarkson, KY, where it resides today. Mr. Kelley made significant contributions to the beekeeping community through his innovative mind with numerous creations and significant advancements ranging from queen cages, ventilated bee gloves and wired foundation to bee blowers and plastic bottom boards. It is important to note, however, that Mr. Kelley’s ability to build a tremendously successful business was only surpassed by his individual grace in developing and improving the community and people around him.
In 1978, Mrs. Kelley passed away after a steady decline in health and in 1983, at the age of 86, Mr. Kelley negotiated the sale of the Louisiana property and relinquished all holdings. At 89 years of age, Mr. Kelley passed away on August 22, 1986 at the local hospital of congestive heart failure. The company was willed to the hospital, now known as Twin Lakes Regional Hospital, in an operating trust for 20 years where a hospital wing now bears his name. The Elizabethtown Technical and Community College - Leitchfield Campus also adorns his name as the Walter T. Kelley Building and serves to educate future young leaders in Grayson County. Today, the control of the company lies in private partnership, but honors Mr. Kelley’s strong commitment to his employees, the community, and the beekeeping community.