A Brief History of Sargent & Greenleaf on its 150th Anniversary

March 1, 2007

In 1857, Hollywood was founded. In the same year, albeit with decidedly less fanfare, occurred an event that would arguably play a role in shaping the security hardware industry for decades to come.

Financier Halbert Greenleaf began his long tenure in the locking industry when he established a partnership with Linus Yale, Jr. of Yale and Greenleaf, a lock manufacturer located in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. Shortly thereafter, James Sargent, a young man with a natural mechanical inclination and an already impressive history of inventiveness joined the firm as a sales representative.

It was at this point that Sargent, leveraging his unique lock pick and safe lock bypass abilities, began work on what would become his first major lock design. Widely recognized as the most advanced combination bank lock of the day, Sargent’s Magnetic Bank Lock proved to be a significant milestone for the company and for the industry. Moreover, Sargent’s lock was the first system able to repel the most sophisticated and vigorous bypass attempts, even those of its inventor.

The outbreak of the Civil War had a significant impact on the fledgling company, as one of its original founders, Halbert Greenleaf, left the company to fulfill his commission as a Colonel in the Union Army. This event effectively, although only temporarily, dissolved the partnership of Yale and Greenleaf, at least in its original composition.

After returning from the battlefield, Halbert Greenleaf sought out his former employee James Sargent, now a respected lock-maker in his own right. The two formed Sargent & Greenleaf (S&G) and established their factory in what would become the company’s home until the mid 1970s, Rochester, New York.
During this time, James Sargent created new and innovative security hardware and would continue to do so for the rest of his life. His second combination lock, the Automatic, was followed by various models of time locks and other devices.

The period following World War I was plagued with significant economic upheaval punctuated by the stock market crash of 1929 and the resulting Great Depression of the 30s. These events motivated S&G to greatly expand its offerings beyond locks and locking systems. Builders’ hardware products, including a reversible panic exit device, a classroom wardrobe, heavy cast lavatory stall hardware, push/pull plates for doors, and other miscellaneous hardware were all added to the company’s product line during this period.

During World War II, S&G’s facilities and energies were devoted to ordnance development, most notably, manufacturing fuses for depth charges, among other things.
At the end of World War II another inventive young man, Harry C. Miller, joined the company. Raised within the safe and lock industry, Miller refined and mastered the art of safe lock manipulation, a method of determining a lock’s combination from outside the safe while leaving no evidence that the lock has been compromised.
Like James Sargent, Harry Miller set about to create an impenetrable lock. The result was the patented M-6700 series combination lock. Based on an urgent need to protect classified and sensitive documents, the lock was quickly embraced by many US Government agencies. As demand grew, S&G manufactured subsequent versions of the manipulation-proof lock design. As a result of his contribution and success at S&G, Harry Miller became owner and president of the company in 1953.
Under Mr. Miller’s leadership many of the hardware products S&G manufactured in prior decades were phased out. This enabled the company to concentrate on its core strengths—combination locks for safes and vaults, safe deposit locks, and specialty security hardware devices.

In 1975 the Rochester factory closed with a new facility opening in Nicholasville, Kentucky. Nicholasville, first chartered in the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1812, is located a few miles south of Lexington in the heart of the state’s Bluegrass Region. Noted for its beautiful, world famous horse farms, it is also a commercial hub for the safe lock industry. The presence of S&G has attracted many other lock makers and related security enterprises to the area.

As 1980 ushered in a new decade, so too did it mark a significant event in S&G’s history. Harry Miller sold the company to Security Group of Indianapolis. And while Mr. Miller ended his formal relationship with the company, what remained was the company’s original commitment to quality and dedication to the advancement of physical security. In the transition, the company gained a new stream of capital to expand its research and development efforts.

As a result, S&G developed and brought to market a new line of Environmental Padlocks, including a model used by virtually all North American railroads to protect sensitive switching equipment. Beginning in 1994 with the introduction of the very popular 6120 model, S&G entered the electronic safe lock market.

Since then, S&G has greatly expanded its electronic lock line to include such innovative products as the 6123, an Audit Lock with its 400 time-and-date-stamped event capacity, the Biometric Keypad with its convenient and secure biometric recognition and the A-Series one-time code ATM lock.

One of the company’s most significant advancements to date was the advent of the IP Series Keypad, which allows a single supervisor to manage and monitor one lock or thousands of locks from a single, central location. Today, these and other products are sold in 140 countries.

In January of 2005, S&G was acquired by The Stanley Works and became a subsidiary of the Stanley Security Solutions group which generates over $1 billion in annual sales. The diverse, market-leading enterprises which comprise Stanley Security Solutions enable S&G to explore new markets, create joint ventures, and draw from a deep pool of security expertise.

The history of Sargent & Greenleaf reflects a rich and colorful heritage. The company occupies a permanent and esteemed position on the American industrial landscape. Long before corporate mission statements, it was understood that the goal of the company was to provide the most innovative and effective locks of the highest quality designed to solve security problems, be it securing a cabinet or protecting the valuable contents of a bank vault.

As among the world’s most experienced and skilled producers of safe locks, S&G employs the latest design and manufacturing technologies while delivering unparalleled customer support. As S&G continues to make contributions and advancements in the industry, it has not forgotten the fundamental vision and guiding principles of its founding fathers which, after 150 years, still drives the company today.