Icons of The Locksmithing Industry: Seeking Nominations

Nov. 15, 2004
Ten years have passed since Locksmith Ledger published this 65th anniversary article and many of these men are still leaders in the industry. Who should be added to this list when we celebrate our 75th anniversary?

Editor's Note June 2014: As we get ready to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Locksmith Ledger later this year, we wanted to share this 65th anniversary report on Icons of the Locksmith Industry. Ten years later and many of these men are still  actively contributing to our industry. Today, we are asking our readers to submit their nominations for additional Icons of the Locksmith Industry. Please send email recommendations to [email protected], and we will publish the results online or in the anniversary issue of Locksmith Ledger.

Jack Berg
Jack Berg started his career in the hardware industry in 1962 and quickly won favor with the locksmith community by becoming an authority on the products he sold. Two years later, at the request of local locksmiths, he launched Stone & Berg Wholesale Locksmith Supply and soon after, developed his own locksmith supply catalog and price list.

"I had no intention of being in business at all. I was a philosophy major, in preparation for a social work career. My first employment was as a YMCA Youth Director, but as my family started, I realized that I also had to make a living to support them, so I went into the family lumber business. Getting "no kicks" out of 2x4's, I started the hardware business that I mentioned earlier," Berg says.

As the wholesale end of his business thrived, Berg dropped out of the retail sector, referring that business to local locksmiths in the Worcester, Mass., area. As business grew, he added more lock lines and started to service locksmiths throughout New England, even distributing some product lines nationwide.

"My start in the locksmith supply industry was enhanced through the cooperation and advice of other distributors, many of whom I count as good friends, and the help of local reps, and the manufacturers that they represented," he adds.

In 1993, Berg left Stone & Berg, and is currently employed by Clark Security Products as Product Director, working out of Moody Beach, ME.

Over the years, he says he has watched locksmithing advanced from a craft based on closely held secrets to an industry that willingly and proactively shared information, processes and procedures with those who were new to the trade and were not only interested in their own development, but wished to improve the craft. This happened with associations, distributors, manufacturers and trade publications offering continuing education through classes, seminars and articles on various products.

Another major change has been triggered by the purchase of many smaller independent manufacturers by large corporations. This had both positive and negative effects, according to Berg. When a purchased company was allowed to continue operating as a distinct entity, it was a benefit to the industry, allowing these product lines to develop and grow. But when a smaller manufacturer was absorbed, the identity (trade name) of their product line was lost and became confusing for the locksmith and the end user.

Berg would like to be remembered for "a love of life, the industry we are in, and a sense of humor. AND for the message I leave for all, to "Keep smilin'."

Aaron Fish

You could say that Aaron Fish was born into the locksmith business. The son of a Polish immigrant, Fish's locksmith father settled the family in Montreal and by age 8 young Aaron was already cutting keys. By his 17th birthday Fish had established his own business, the Canadian Key & Lock Supply Company, selling keys and accessories from the back of a bicycle and conducting business out of his mother's kitchen.

An entrepreneurial spirit and tireless work ethic would soon take a young Fish to heights even he hadn't imagined. Fish earned an "in" with the government by helping the RCMP establish its Lock Division inside the department's Crime Division Lab in Ottawa in the early 1950s. A decade later Bell Canada would come to Fish looking for his company to develop a mechanical push-button lock. Fish approached several major lock manufacturers looking to partner with them on this project, yet it was Simplex who finally agreed to work with the small Canadian company. "They had the chamber, so it was our job to turn it into a locking device," said Fish. What they eventually came up with was the predecessor of the ubiquitous Simplex 1000 Pushbutton lock.

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."

Nick Gartner
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
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.

Today, the Museum boasts eight display rooms. The newest of these is an extensive lock collection that includes a Cannon Ball Safe, 30 early era time locks, safe escutcheon plates and a large number of British safe locks, door locks, padlocks, handcuffs and keys. Details about museum exhibits can be found on the web site www.lockmuseumofamerica.org.

Ernie Kaufman
When Detex Corporation National Training Manager Ernie Kaufman went to work for Detex Corporation in New York more than 50 years ago, he only planned to stay for three months. Luckily for the locksmith industry, his plans changed.

Kaufman's first position was working in the Watchman's Clock division. approximately five years later, Detex introduced the Hardware Division, which incorporated exit alarms, exit locks and remote indicating panels. That was over 45 years ago.

"I had the privilege of working with the president of Detex Corporation and also the assistant to the president," says Kaufman. "I worked on safety and security equipment in the Research and Development department. We developed new products to enhance existing hardware product lines."

Later, as Sales and Service manager of the New York office, he had the opportunity work with both Detex representatives and distributors as well as their customers. "This exposure allowed me to understand the needs of customers who were using our equipment. I also got the opportunity to learn what our customers would like to see as additional features in our products," Kaufman says.

Next, he was promoted to the position of Regional West Coast manager. Kaufman credits General Manager Edward Newton with guiding him through the operations and responsibilities of this new position and introducing him to the representatives, distributors and customers on the west coast. "One thing I learned was to be truthful about our products and not approve the sale of our equipment where it would not stand up to specifications and needs of the customer. By following this practice, I avoided putting the distributor in jeopardy or losing his customer and future customers as well."

As East Coast Regional Manager, Kaufman launched training seminars and certification classes covering Detex hardware equipment. This program is now known as Loss Prevention and Architectural Equipment. He then initiated the same training seminars and certification classes on the West Coast. These seminars proved to by very popular and as a result, his title changed from West Coast Regional Manager to National Education Manager.

Through the years, many of the people who attended these training seminars have returned to Kaufman's seminars to upgrade their skills in the operations and installation procedures for Detex equipment.

"In some instances I have been asked if our equipment could perform a certain special function needed by the customer. In many of these cases, we were able to modify the equipment to meet their needs. I also advised them to try using off-the-shelf products if at all possible. Whether Detex or any other manufacturer,s product, sometimes after special changes are made it can mean a midnight ride to the job site to perform repairs," Kaufman says.

"While the industry has changed in many ways, my feeling is that the people have remained the same. As new people come into our industry I find that electronic-based products are being requested along with the products we now have. We always appreciate helpful suggestions from locksmiths concerning new ways to make our equipment even more versatile," he adds.

Ross "Buddy" Logan
Ross (Buddy) Logan is best known as the founder of Auto-Security Products, now known as ASP Inc. ASP was the first company to offer replacement locks and lock service parts for imported cars to American locksmiths.

Buddy learned locksmithing from his father C.J. Logan in the late 1960's. During that time Buddy also became friends with George Robbins, who was one of the best automotive locksmiths of that time. He also got to know Samuel and Claire Zeldin, founders of the first distribution company specializing exclusively in automotive locks beginning business in 1930.

Through his learning experiences, Buddy recognized that there were many opportunities in specializing in imported car locks. Although codes and key blanks were available for imported car locks, at that time there was no information easily available about servicing the locks. Also while lock service parts for American cars were readily available through traditional locksmith supply distributors, the few parts that were available for imported cars were available only from the dealerships, often at very high prices and long delivery time.

Buddy published the first imported car lock service manual in 1974, with a second volume published in 1977. His ultimate goal was to improve the availability of lock service parts for imported cars by establishing a parallel distribution system to offer the same types of parts for imported cars as were already available for American cars. Starting business on September 1, 1980, with about 100 different part numbers, ASP has grown to offer over 7,000 different part numbers, with customers around the world.

As high technology invaded automotive locksmithing, ASP Inc. was the first company to offer multi-brand transponder key programming equipment in 2002. ASP's goal for the future is to help keep automotive locksmithing a viable and profitable part of the locksmith's business.

Buddy says he would like to be remembered as an ethical and honorable businessman who always did his best to "say as he does and do as he says." His company will be remembered for providing locksmiths the opportunity to do many profitable automotive lock jobs that they would otherwise have not been able to do.

J. Clayton Miller
J. Clayton "Clay" Miller, born in 1945, has spent literally his entire life involved in the lock and security industry. Miller left high school with a 10th grade education to raise a family. He worked for combination lock manufacturer Sargent & Greenleaf, a family business, starting in the maintenance department repairing machines. In the sales department, he called on safe makers and distributors who were Sargent & Greenleaf's customers. Miller later moved to the position of Vice President/General Manager, overseeing both the manufacturing and sales side of the business. Two of his notable accomplishments were opening a European office, developing a worldwide sales network, and coordinating the S&G move from Rochester, NY to Nicholasville, KY.

Miller was named President of Sargent & Greenleaf in 1976. After the sale of this family business in late 1980, Miller stayed on during the transition but then decided to seek out new challenges.

Next, Miller purchased Lockmasters, Inc. from his father, Harry C. Miller, in September of 1981. Founded in 1954 as a correspondence school, Lockmasters was a small company teaching the art of combination lock manipulation. By 1981, Lockmasters had added courses but remained a small entity ($200,000 annual revenue) which did not receive much attention.

Not long after Miller took over leadership of Lockmasters, the class presentation was revamped and enrollment increased by approximately 100 percent. Along with management responsibilities, Miller served as primary instructor for several years. Through this close daily contact with students, he learned about the requirements of the marketplace while improving his own technical skills.

In late 1982 Lockmasters opened a wholesale mail order business catering to the tool and parts needs of the safe technician. The idea was an immediate success. Today the wholesale division has revenues exceeding $5 million annually.

The education division of Lockmasters has grown tremendously over the years. Based on the increase in crime and terrorism in the U.S., Miller is broadening the focus of the education division, now known as the Lockmasters Security Institute. The education group will retain its previous old line technical courses while expanding into the area of general security management training and education. All Lockmasters education programs are fully college accredited.

During his career, Miller has been involved in product design and development with over 20 patents to his name and several more pending. In the late 1980s, Miller and partner Michael Harvey founded C&M Technology. The outcome was the development of the X-07 combination lock, a revolutionary electromechanical design which rendered all prior mechanical technology obsolete. The X-07 is currently the only combination lock approved by the U.S. Government for the protection of classified material. C&M licensed the X-07 to KABA MAS.

In the late 1980s, Miller saw the need for a forum for the sharing of information in the safe and vault industry. He founded the Safe and Vault Technicians Association (SAVTA), giving technicians a venue for sharing ideas and information. Miller was instrumental in building SAVTA's membership to approximately 1,200 members worldwide. As the Association grew, a decision had to be made as to which business he wished to continue leading. The decision was made to spin off SAVTA and it was donated to the Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA).

In the early 90s Miller and his brother, Benson, founded LockNet, a nationwide sales and service organization catering to the security needs of national chain accounts such as Sears, Service Merchandise, Hollywood Video. Benson continues to direct the daily operations of the business.

Today, Miller continues to direct the education division of Lockmasters, and spends the majority of his time overseeing a group of three engineers in the Research and Development Department. This R&D group is constantly working on the development of new locks, equipment and techniques for the security industry.

Clay Miller and his wife, April Truitt, operate a primate sanctuary on the grounds of their farm in Kentucky. A non-profit organization, the Primate Rescue Center provides lifetime care for unwanted ex-pet primates and surplus laboratory animals. Currently they house and care for approximately 50 monkeys and 11 chimpanzees. The Primate Rescue Center is working with prominent animal protection organizations to restrict the domestic trade in primates and other exotic animals and to establish a national network of primate sanctuaries.

Bob Psolka
"Bob! Someone on the phone for you."

"OK! Hello. Gale Johnson! Hi Gale!"

"WHAT? The Locksmith Ledger is 65.....That flimsy four page paper that came out before World War II..... That skinny magazine you could put in your pocket..... 65 years! WOW! It's all growed up!"

My hat's off to you, Locksmith Ledger. May you have many more years in your mission to keep the locksmith informed and educated. And to you professionals who read the pages of the Ledger, I wish you the best. You're a member of the greatest professional fraternity in the world......one that dates back 40 centuries. Never forget the trust the public has for you and the traditions you've inherited. You are a locksmith!

Bob Psolka's career included stops at three companies: Locksmith Ledger, Taylor Lock Company and Ilco Unican. He arrived at the Ledger in 1954 as a part-time writer, later going full time and learning the trade in various shops. "When I left the Ledger 14 years later, I was handling not only the Ledger but also another publication and two advertising services, all monthly. Hectic!"

In l968, he joined a family-owned hardware store in Philadelphia that branched into wholesaling and later into key blank and lock manufacturing. Taylor was known as THE supplier for foreign car key blanks when foreign cars began to appear in the U.S. During Psolka's 18 years there, Taylor enjoyed a four times increase in sales volume.

Later Taylor Lock was acquired by Ilco Unican. Psolka was the only Taylor executive relocated to Rocky Mount, N.C., and he assumed the duties as Product Manager of Key Machines. At that time Ilco was selling nine key machine models. When he retired six years later, Ilco was actively selling 39 models, including an automatic feed machine.

Psolka says the formation of the Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA) brought about the biggest changes to the industry during his tenure. "In it's nearly 50 years, ALOA has accomplished the goal of its founders - it has elevated the status of a locksmith to that of a professional. It evolved into the cohesive factor that brought all levels of the industry together - manufacturer, wholesaler and the locksmith," says Psolka, who attended all of the ALOA conventions but one (his youngest son was born then) until he retired.

Psolka credits M. Leonard Singer, publisher of "that skinny magazine that could fit in your pocket," with getting him started in the industry. "He provided me with the opportunities to learn, instructed me, guided me, and advised me, as he had done with countless others in the trade. I'm really proud that he trusted me with his creation....The Locksmith Ledger."

Other major influences were William Taylor, the president of Taylor Lock Company; Don Wright, vice president of sales for Ilco; and Aaron Fish, chairman and president of Ilco Unican. Psolka also credits Mike Turner at Ilco, Frank Belflower, Lynn Best, Terri Nelson, Bill Reed, Hank Spicer, Ed Pfeil, Jerry Connelly, Jimmy Taylor, Harry Miller, Al and Jerry Hoffman, Virl Mullins and Tom Hennessey.

Psolka would like to be remembered for helping people, an early lesson passed on from Leonard Singer. "We were sitting in his car one night, and he asked me, 'If you decide to work for me, what do you think you would want to do most?' Being a young buck at that time, I said, 'Make more money, of course.' 'That's not the way to look at it,' he said. 'You should set your sights on helping people. Help them do their jobs better. Help solve their problems. Help them with good advice. That should be your major focus. The money will follow.' He was right!"

William Swetow
Bill Swetow is the second-generation of the family-owned Mayflower Sales Company, located in Brooklyn, N.Y. Bill's father, Joseph Swetow, started Mayflower Sales in 1917 as a distributor of automotive radiator supplies. In 1935, Joseph Swetow added automotive locks to Mayflower's product line. With the success of automotive locks, Mayflower expanded to residential and commercial lock hardware. By the mid-1960s, Mayflower Sales was a full line locksmith distributor.

Bill's involvement at Mayflower began after his college graduation in 1939. Except for four years of military duty during World War II, Bill has been involved with Mayflower Sales Company for more than 60 years. This family-run business now includes the third generation. Bill's son Paul Swetow is the Vice President. Paul is the proud father of twin infant sons. There are hopes that at least one of the twins becomes the fourth generation.

Bill has seen the locksmith industry evolve from Segal (surface-mounted) locks to today's mechanical high security locks, the pushbutton lock and electronic access control.

Bill lives by his father's business philosophy: "If you want to make the world a better place, start by keeping your own corner clean." He would like to be remembered as an ethical businessman.

James L. Taylor
When Jim Taylor began his career, combination lock manipulation was considered almost a figment of the imagination. Taylor and Lockmasters removed the myth, making it a usable locksmith tool.

Taylor began his locksmithing apprenticeship in 1948 with Safemasters in Washington, D. C. (then owned by his uncle, John C. Miller). Jerry Connelly also began his apprenticeship at the same time; they worked together and became best friends. From Safemasters, he went to Dept. of Defense, Physical Security Equipment Agency in 1952. From there he went to Sargent & Greenleaf in the research department. During this period, Taylor, Harry Miller and Leonard Singer began Lockmasters, Inc. He ran this company until 1973.

But his interest in locksmithing began much earlier. Uncle John C. Miller would take various locks to him for examination when visiting the family during his childhood. He developed a fascination for locking mechanisms during this time, which continues to this day. "Uncle John was a hard taskmaster but he instilled in me the need for doing things the right way," Jim reports.

During his S&G days, Taylor was a driving force in achieving world recognition and leadership for that company in the industry. He made countless trips to countries around the world to set up and maintain worldwide representation contacts. Many lock and safe men in the industry today began their education with Lockmasters. Taylor was awarded the Philadelphia Award in 1966.

Taylor founded Precision Products Inc. in 1974. At Precision Products he designed and manufactured safe deposit locks still in use today. The first self-powered electronic lock was developed at Precision (and later became Mas Hamilton / KABA Mas / KABA). Also in 1974, he founded Taylor Resources Inc. In 2000, he launched Tayco Inc., in current operation with his son. Next, Taylor launched Bullseye SD Locks Inc. in 2001, also in current operation with son James H. Taylor.