Former Mosler Employees Swap Stories from Factory Floor

July 20--HAMILTON, OH -- Emblazoned on bank vaults and safes worldwide are the words "Mosler Safe Co." and "Hamilton, Ohio."

Until its bankruptcy and abrupt closure in 2001, Mosler Safe Co. built bank vaults, night depositories, safes and other security equipment, including the original vault and transport mechanism that protected the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and Constitution of the United States.

A Mosler vault in Hiroshima, Japan, survived a nuclear attack.

Former employees say that looking back now they could see the writing on the wall over the years, anticipating the company's slow demise, as ownership changed. But no one anticipated when they showed up for work in August, 2001, that it would be their last day on the job. They were told that morning to pack their boxes.

Mosler Safe had about 3,000 employees in Hamilton and branches nationwide at the time it closed. Then it was owned by a New York corporation.

"Nobody could understand how a company of that size could just overnight practically disintegrate," said Gene Gabbard, 76, of Centerville, who worked at the company for 20 years and was once director of national service parts for Mosler. "Nobody got to say goodbye."

This weekend, more than 230 former employees and spouses have gathered in Hamilton at Courtyard by Marriott. Some are from near Butler County and others traveled here from California, Florida, New York, Oregon, and other places. Ahead of the reunion, seven former employees still living in the area gathered with Journal-News to swap stories at the Butler County Historical Society, which is displaying different Mosler artifacts.

The memories bring back a time when everybody in Hamilton who wanted a job could get one, the group recalled. Then, Hamilton was an industrial center as the headquarters of Mosler Safe and Champion Papers.

"When you worked at Mosler, it was a lifetime job," said Eddie Scherer, 70, of Liberty Twp. He was the third generation of his family to work there. "That wasn't true in the end."

"Mosler was my whole life. It was from day one all the way up until I left in '95, which was not my choice by the way," said Scherer, whose last job was service marketing manager.

Gustave Mosler founded the company in 1867 in Cincinnati and relocated it in 1891 to Hamilton along the Erie Canal. The business reached its height after World War II and built protective doors for nuclear missile silos, for example. Mosler also built doors weighing as much as 100 tons for nuclear material production and storage facilities. However, the doors were engineered and hinged in a way that it only took one person to open it, past Mosler employees say.

Mosler Safe competed with companies such as Diebold, York and Herring-Hall Marvin. But "of all of them, Mosler was the best and that's not because we worked for them," said Maurice Jones, 83, Fairfield, who worked 37 years for Mosler's service department, as well as a consultant. "The quality met the specifications that were required to do the job."

Mosler built protective cases to last 1,000 years.

Jones remembers working to install one of these vaults and thinking "what are they going to do for spare parts? So I asked them. Everybody in that building; just dead silence."

"We wound up making time capsules and putting stuff in them," Jones said.

It was like a family, said Richard Heck, 76, of Hamilton, who was working in technical services when Mosler closed in 2001. He recalled the irony that he started working for the company 41 years before to the day on August 3.

"You knew everybody and everybody backed everybody," Heck said.

"And it didn't matter where you worked, what you did. It really was like a big family," said Sandy Baker, 69, of Ross Twp., who worked at Mosler for 38 years until after it closed. The last 23 years she was secretary to the president, serving three company presidents during that time.

Most of the employees that met with Journal-News used to work for the National Installation and Service Division, based in Hamilton, which was started in 1958.

Service division founder A. Dee Grover was "like General Patton. He was hard, but he knew where to go and we were going to get there come hell and high water, with or without you. But you better be with him," Heck said.

"The man was well respected. I'm not saying he didn't have enemies, but I'd tell you, I'd walk with that man anywhere," Heck said.

"He was so determined."

"He was the right individual for Mosler at that time because they had no service department and they needed one to go to the next level from vaults to commercial," he said.

Nils-Olaf Pearson of Union, Ky., worked for Mosler for 44 years, traveling the country servicing vaults and safes.

"One of the things that Mosler did every year, they'd go out to every bank they had a contract with. Most banks had a triple movement time lock. We would take one movement out, tear it down, clean it, oil it, put it back in, check the other two," Pearson said.

"This procedure took the better part of half a day just to service the time lock and then you would clean the vault door and stuff," Pearson said.

After Mosler closed, some employees went to work for ADT Tyco in Blue Ash. The company was bidding to acquire the assets of Mosler. But when the bid failed, and Diebold acquired the assets, remaining Mosler employees working at Tyco were laid off in 2002.

"Everybody that worked (at Mosler) felt like they were contributing. They were part of something. You just weren't a number," Baker said.

"If somebody was down on their luck, we took up a collection to help them," Baker said.

"Mr. Murphy, he was the first president I worked for. He could go out to the shop and name I bet 90 percent of those guys by their first name. He was the only president that ever did that to that degree," she said.

Remaining remnants of Mosler Safe in Hamilton include the former headquarters on Bilstein Boulevard, now a Diebold office. A local manufacturing plant closed in 1996, according to Butler County historian Jim Blount.

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