Editor's Note: The editors of Locksmith Ledger are pleased to present an expanded version of our Icons of the Industry feature article from our 65th Anniversary coverage in November 2004. In interviewing these industry leaders, we realized that their accomplishments were far too numerous to fit in a...
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With the emergence of the revolutionary mechanical lock in 1964, the newly renamed Unican Security Systems established itself as an industry force. During the next 35 years Fish led Unican into electrified hardware and access control as the company blossomed into one of the most powerful names in the security industry. "We had a wonderful base of customers. They were always the most important thing to us. They drove us to be better every day," said Fish, whose products ranged from keys and key-cutting machines to sophisticated access control. "When I would get up at our annual shareholders meeting, I was never the one to spew all that business rhetoric. My business model was simple. The customer was first and my employees second. If we served both well, the company could do nothing but flourish."
Fish's love for the industry drove him to purchase the Locksmith Publishing Corporation in 1988, and for more than 12 years the Locksmith Ledger magazine was like his eighth child. He was a good parent, who doted but seldom interfered. By the time Fish and Unican decided to sell the company to Kaba AG in 2000, Unican was a $450 million-plus company with several thousand employees.
Today Mr. Fish continues a schedule just as challenging as many active CEOs. He sits on numerous boards and is one of Canada's most prolific philanthropists. But he remains a locksmith at heart, even though it distresses him to see the simple art changing.
"The advent of the microprocessor has changed this entire industry. Locks used to be locks. They were mechanical and each had their own personality," Fish said. "Now there is a whole new flavor and technology. Most of the locks we made a living on have taken a back seat to electronics. Today's locksmith is fading away. He must be an electronic technician or a specialist to survive."
La Gard founder Nick Gartner holds more than 70 patents for locksmithing and safe-related products, including the 1200 Code Machine and the non-handed swingbolt electronic safe lock.
In 1970, Nick's safe career dialed in when he was appointed manager of new product development for Sargent & Greenleaf, working under Harry Miller in Rochester, N.Y. S&G and specifically Harry Miller helped Nick to create and patent a number of safe-related products, including. the Sargent & Greenleaf "Dial and Push," the first electronic safe lock.
In 1975, Nick founded and was the CEO of La Gard, a manufacturing facility in Torrance, CA. La Gard began operation as a subcontractor of time locks for Sargent & Greenleaf. It was during this time that Nick developed the 1200 Code Machine.
The following year, La Gard introduced the 1800 combination lock, a Group 2 safe lock. Over the years, La Gard developed a number of mechanical combination locks and key-operated safe locks. In 1990, the non-handed swingbolt electronic safe lock came on the market. La Gard was sold to Masco in 1997.
Gartner would like to be remembered for creating and building the first key origination machine that used code cards, the non-handed swingbolt electronic lock, and for the best things yet to come.
Tom Hennessy's accomplishments in the locksmithing field are two-fold. First, he is the inventor of the "Hennessy" key code system and author of the book Locks and Lockmakers of America. Second, he is a founder and curator of the Lock Museum of America in Terryville, Conn.
Hennessy worked as a part-time locksmith for 25 years in his hometown of Bristol, CT., and as an engineer for a number of leading lock manufacturers. His employers have included P&F Corbin, Eagle Lock Co., American Hardware, Yale & Towne, Emhart Corp., Corbin-Russwin and Lori Corp. Patents for his inventions produced more than $100 million in sales to the lock companies involved. For his efforts, Hennessy received a total of $10 -- $1 for each patent.
In 1971, Hennessy set up the master-keying system for the World Trade Center. The original specifications for the keying system were based on using the regular six-pin-type cylinder. Because of the massive size of the project, it would have required 18 different key sections, more than 200 master keys and approximately 20,000 different change keys. Instead, Hennessy used 46,000 Corbin master ring mortise cylinder locks to set up the security system using only four key sections.
Hennessy's extensive lock collection has been housed in the Lock Museum of America since 1972. The museum sits on the site of the original office building of the Eagle Lock Co., one of Terryville's largest employers before foreign competition forced the company to shut down in 1976. His fascination with locks began much earlier. While serving aboard an aircraft carrier in the Navy, Hennessy became curious about the workings of the padlock on his locker. Upon returning home, he studied tool design and was eventually hired as an engineer.