Master Lock

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Master Lock Company
Founded 1921; 97 years ago (1921)
Headquarters Oak Creek, Wisconsin, U.S.
Products Padlocks, safes, and security products
Parent Fortune Brands Home & Security

Master Lock is an American company that develops padlocks, combination locks, safes and related security products. Now a subsidiary of Fortune Brands Home & Security, Master Lock Company LLC was formed in 1921 by locksmith-inventor Harry E. Soref, and is headquartered in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.[1][2][3] 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 and the beverages company Beam Inc. (which was then soon purchased by Suntory).

Early company history[edit]

Before co-founding the company in 1921, Harry Soref had been a traveling locksmith in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico,[2][3] had invented a lock for protecting military equipment,[3] and had founded the "Master Key" company for making master skeleton keys.[2] In 1919, Soref then invented a padlock design that used laminated steel layers to economically produce an exceptionally strong lock body.[3]

He tried unsuccessfully to get some large companies interested in using his design, so he and two friends—P. E. Yolles and Sam Stahl,[4]—worked together to found the Master Lock company in Milwaukee in 1921 to produce the locks themselves, initially with five employees.[2][3] In 1924, the company was granted the first patent on such a laminated lock design.[3] Stahl led the company to become a major manufacturer of locks and the three co-founders worked closely together until Soref's death in 1957.[5] However, the brand had not yet reached its peak status as a familiar consumer brand at the time of Soref's death.[3] Stahl led the company until selling his shares to Soref's children who took over the company management, later selling the company to the American Brands Corporation in 1970.[4]


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.[6] 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.[7] The design received an Industrial Design Excellence award from Business Week in 2002.[8]

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.[9] 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.[10]

In 2012, Master Lock introduced a new line of combination padlocks called the dialSpeed.[11] 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.[11] The product won a 2011 silver Edison Award.[8] In 2014 Master Lock acquired Sentry Safe for $117.5 million.[12] New products in the 2000s moved beyond locks themselves, including other sealing mechanisms such as industrial space covers.[13] Distribution of Master Lock products occurs through wholesale distributors that then send the locks to individual retailers.[14] Locks are made for a variety of uses, including personal locking, vehicle locking, and others.[15]

Tough Under Fire ad[edit]

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.[16] Later, Master would incorporate the image into a one second long blipvert commercial in 1998.[17]

Offshoring and re-shoring[edit]

At its peak in the early 1990s, the company employed about 1,300 workers in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area.[1][18] In 1993, the company began moving much of its manufacturing to China, and later also moved some manufacturing to Mexico.[1][18] 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.[1]

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.[1][18] Most of the added jobs were for making combination locks, subassemblies and keys.[1] 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.[1][19]

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.[20] As of that time, it was reported that the company had returned about 100 jobs from overseas during the preceding two-year period.[20]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Schmid, John, Master Lock reassessing China: Milwaukee-based company finds it can compete better from U.S. soil, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 1, 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d Harry E. Soref, Archived March 6, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Univ. Wisconsin Milwaukee Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Alfred, Randy (March 2, 2011) [March 2, 2009]. "March 2, 1887: Birth of the Master Locksmith". Wired. Retrieved August 3, 2017. 
  4. ^ a b Master Lock Company History, Funding Universe,
  5. ^ Hutzel, T.; Lippert, D. (2014). Bringing Jobs Back to the USA: Rebuilding America’s Manufacturing through Reshoring. CRC Press. p. 59. ISBN 9781482282528. Retrieved 2017-02-23. 
  6. ^ Lidwell, W.; Manacsa, G. (2009). Deconstructing Product Design: Exploring the Form, Function, Usability, Sustainability, and Commercial Success of 100 Amazing Produ. Rockport Publishers. p. 188. ISBN 9781616736026. Retrieved 2017-02-23. 
  7. ^ Cheryl Dangel Cullen, L.H. Design Secrets : Product 2. Rockport Publishers. p. 126. ISBN 9781610596572. Retrieved 2017-02-23. 
  8. ^ a b Spinelli, S.; McGowan, H. (2013). Disrupt Together: How Teams Consistently Innovate. Pearson Education. p. 247. ISBN 9780133384130. Retrieved 2017-02-23. 
  9. ^ "Password Manager for iPhone, Android & Desktop | Master Lock Vault®". Retrieved 2017-02-23. 
  10. ^ "milwaukee/print-edition/2011/11/11/master-lock-to-benefit-from-spinoff". Retrieved 2017-02-23. 
  11. ^ a b Master dialSpeed 1500EDBX Padlock Review, Gadget Review, August 23, 2012.
  12. ^ "Sentry Safe sold to Master Lock for $117.5M". Retrieved 2017-02-23. 
  13. ^ "Master Lock | 2015-05-29 | Safety+Health Magazine". Retrieved 2017-02-23. 
  14. ^ Rosenbloom, B. (2012). Marketing Channels. Cengage Learning. p. 231. ISBN 9780324316988. Retrieved 2017-02-23. 
  15. ^[dead link]
  16. ^ Blankenhorn, Dana, Advertising During the Super Bowl: A Mixed Bag, ClickZ Marketing News & Expert Advice, Jan. 23, 2001.
  17. ^ Christopher, Alistair, Blink Of An Ad, Time, Aug. 3, 1998.
  18. ^ a b c Ahmed, Beenish, Some Jobs Finally Return at Master Lock, United Auto Workers, Jan. 24, 2011.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ a b Garcia, Jon, Obama Trip to Lock Factory Evokes Smelly High School Gym Memories, ABC News, Feb. 15, 2012.

External links[edit]