When asked what he remembers about Murray-Ohio, Rhea Little, III, one of Brentwood’s City Commissioners, said that it was the helicopter.
“They used to fly the executives from the Brentwood corporate headquarters to their plant in Lawrenceburg two to three times per week,” said Little. “It wasn’t a small one, but one of those big five to six seater kind. They’d fly so close to Franklin Road, you’d feel you could touch them. The helipad sat about where Chopt restaurant is currently located.”
As the bike and lawn equipment maker’s sales began to slide in the early 1980s, they were acquired by a British investment group, Tompkins, plc. In 1988, Tompkins put an end to the helicopter flights, telling executives that they could drive to Lawrenceburg. It was more economical.
“They had the ‘Ohio’ in their name because that is where they got started,” added Little.
Murray-Ohio was founded in 1919 in Cleveland, Ohio to be exact. Initially, they produced parts for the new and growing car industry, including fuel tanks, fenders, and assorted other auto parts.
By the 1930s, Murray was manufacturing bicycles, pedal cars, and electric fans. Like their competitors, they moved to the south in the 1950s, opening their new plant in Lawrenceburg in 1956. The plant grew to be the largest of its kind under one roof in the 1960s with the introduction of the “Wildcat’ bicycle. They also made bikes for retailers under their own labels.
One of their most famous employees was former Senator Fred Dalton Thompson. He grew up in Lawrenceburg and worked there to pay for college.
Lawn and Garden Equipment Manufacture Grew
The company began to make yard maintenance equipment under their own label, and also under the “Craftsman” label for Sears, and the “Stanley” label for Walmart.
This production grew and bikes faded when Murray began investing deeply into selling to discount realtors like Walmart, K-Mart, and Target. Independent bike stores rebelled. They quit carrying Murray-Ohio products. Slipping bike sales began to slide more.
Supreme Court Ruling “Puts the Nail in the Coffin”
Insult was added to injury in 1996, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that imported bikes and power yard equipment – like mowers, leaf and snow blowers — was not a threat to American production.
By 2000, Pacific Cycle, a Chinese company, had acquired the bike division of the business, which they eventually sold to the Canadian-owned Dorel Industries. And in 2004, the yard equipment business was purchased by Briggs and Stratton. They closed the Lawrenceburg plant in 2005.
“I remember the Murray-Ohio headquarters being there when I was growing up,” said Little. “It was just always there in the middle of Brentwood. Then it closed and sat empty for years.”
New Life Given to Headquarters Site
In the not too distant past, both the old Murray –Ohio and Baptist Convention headquarters were razed to make way for the new Hill Center mixed-use development. The first phase contains 158,000 square feet of office space and 66,000 square feet of retail space. Phase two includes more retail and a hotel.
The Hill Center has revitalized the area, and also won a number of awards for excellence in development.