Tough Under Fire
|Headquarters||Oak Creek, Wisconsin, U.S.|
|Products||Padlocks, Safes and Security Products|
Master Lock is an American company that develops padlocks, combination locks, safes and related security products and manufactures them mostly in China and Mexico. Now a subsidiary of Fortune Brands, Inc., Master Lock Company LLC was formed in 1921 by locksmith-inventor Harry E. Soref, and is headquartered in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. In 1970, the company was purchased by American Brands from Soref's heirs. American Brands was later renamed to Fortune Brands, which then split on October 3, 2011 to create the Fortune Brands Home & Security company.
Early company history
Before founding the company in 1921, Harry Soref had been a traveling locksmith in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, had invented a lock for protecting military equipment, and had founded the "Master Key" company for making master skeleton keys. In 1919, Soref then invented a padlock design that used laminated steel layers to economically produce an exceptionally strong lock body.
He tried unsuccessfully to get some large companies interested in using his design, so recruited financial backing from two friends, P. E. Yolles and Sam Stahl, and founded the Master Lock company in 1921 to produce the locks himself, initially with five employees. In 1924, he was granted the first patent on such a laminated lock design. He led the company to become a major manufacturer of locks before his death in 1957. However, the brand had not yet reached its peak status as an familiar consumer brand at the time of his death. Sam Stahl, one of the original investors, then led the company until he also died in 1964. The Soref family then took over the company management, later selling the company to the American Brands Corporation in 1970.
In 2002, Master Lock released its Titanium Series of padlocks, its first major redesign in fifty years. The goal was to move the utilitarian functionality of their locks closer towards something that provided design differentials and aesthetic value. The inside of the locks was created with titanium reinforced steel, with a stainless steel body. A shroud covers parts of the stainless steel, allowing the locks to come in different colors. The design was created by firm Design Continuum. Master Lock also requested that its locks be sold outside the hardware section of retailers, and have them placed in other parts of the stores. The design received an Industrial Design Excellence award from Business Week in 2002.
In 2010, Master Lock began offering a password manager service called Master Lock Vault that includes a web site and associated software applications for use on various devices. In 2011 Master Lock’s parent company spun off a subsidiary to be named Fortune Brands Home & Security, whilst renaming itself Beam Inc. (after its product Jim Beam). Master Lock became the property of Fortune Brands Home & Security, no longer having ties to Beam and lessening the amount of other business segments it had to complete with for attention internally.
In 2012, Master Lock introduced a new line of combination padlocks called the dialSpeed. The dialSpeed lock is battery-operated, has a lit face, and features multiple user-programmable combinations. It has a master unlocking code that can be accessed through the company web site. The product won a 2011 silver Edison Award. In 2014 Master Lock acquired Sentry Safe for $117.5 million. New products in the 2000s moved beyond locks themselves, including other sealing mechanisms such as industrial space covers. Distribution of Master Lock products occurs through wholesale distributors that then send the locks to individual retailers. Locks are made for a variety of uses, including personal locking, vehicle locking, and others.
Tough Under Fire ad
In 1974, Master Lock ran a notable Super Bowl ad where one of their locks survived being shot by a sharpshooter, thereby proving its durability, thus the slogan Tough Under Fire. Master Lock would continue running similar ads during future Super Bowls, spending almost their entire annual marketing budget on the single commercial. Later, Master would incorporate the image into a one second long blipvert commercial in 1998.
Offshoring and re-shoring
At its peak in the early 1990s, the company employed about 1,300 workers in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area. In 1993, the company began moving much of its manufacturing to China, and later also moved some manufacturing to Mexico. Most of the jobs at its Milwaukee plant were eliminated, although the company continued to perform some of its manufacturing at the plant using heavily-automated manufacturing processes.
In January 2011, it was announced that about 36 jobs were being returned from China to the Milwaukee plant, which would increase the number of positions at the plant to 379. Most of the added jobs were for making combination locks, subassemblies and keys. It was reported that the company would also continue to contract with three Chinese factories and about twenty Chinese suppliers, and operate its maquiladora near the Arizona border, where Mexican workers perform non-automated labor-intensive work such as assembling made-in-Milwaukee components.
In February 2012, U.S. President Barack Obama visited the Master Lock headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and lauded the company's recent return of jobs from overseas locations. As of that time, it was reported that the company had returned about 100 jobs from overseas during the preceding two-year period.
Master Lock with shackle open.
- Schmid, John, Master Lock reassessing China: Milwaukee-based company finds it can compete better from U.S. soil, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 1, 2011.
- Harry E. Soref, Univ. Wisconsin Milwaukee Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business.
- Alfred, Randy, March 2, 1887: Birth of the Master Locksmith, Wired.com, March 2, 2009 (republished March 2, 2011).
- Master Lock Company History, Funding Universe,
- Master dialSpeed 1500EDBX Padlock Review, Gadget Review, August 23, 2012.
- Blankenhorn, Dana, Advertising During the Super Bowl: A Mixed Bag, ClickZ Marketing News & Expert Advice, Jan. 23, 2001.
- Christopher, Alistair, Blink Of An Ad, Time, Aug. 3, 1998.
- Ahmed, Beenish, Some Jobs Finally Return at Master Lock, United Auto Workers, Jan. 24, 2011.
- Ahmed, Beenish, Local 469 workers have right combination for more jobs at Master Lock: "Re-sourced" work from China returns to Milwaukee plant, United Auto Workers Solidarity, Mar./Apr. 2011.
- Garcia, Jon, Obama Trip to Lock Factory Evokes Smelly High School Gym Memories, ABC News, Feb. 15, 2012.