In 1919, locksmith and inventor Harry Soref had a thought: if bank vault doors and battle ships were built in laminated layers of steel for greater strength, why not make padlocks the same way?
At this time most padlocks were hollow and could be easily broken by a hammer or similar physical abuse.
It was originally Harry's idea to sell this improved padlock to a hardware manufacturing company. However, the number of parts and production steps needed in the original designs and prototypes appalled the engineers, patent attorneys and manufacturers that he showed. None of these old time lock or hardware companies wanted any part of Harry's revolutionary idea.
He took the rejection of his product in stride, still firmly believing his laminated padlock was superior and could be efficiently manufactured. In 1921, Harry founded the Master Lock Company with financial backing from his two friends, P.E. Yolles and Sam Stahl. By 1924, he had invented and patented the first laminated padlock.
These first padlocks were produced in a single room of a small commercial building, which consisted of a drill press, a grinder, a punch press and five employees. Despite the lack of money, equipment and size, the product the little company manufactured turned out to be significantly better than anything else on the market.
Not only were these locks stronger, but they were also much heavier than other padlocks. This turned into an unforeseen advantage. The public associated added weight with added strength. Times were good for Harry and his Master Lock Company. He quickly moved out of his one room shop into the abandoned Pabst Brewery which was being rented during prohibition.
Ironically, prohibition not only had a hand in the new production process, but also contributed to the majority of the first orders. On February 20, 1928, a container of 147,600 padlocks was shipped to federal agents in New York City. These locks were used to lock down many of the establishments that continued to serve and sell the outlawed booze of prohibition.
The quality of the locks was so high that Master Lock soon started receiving additional large orders from other federal agents across the country. Master Lock was now a booming business that would soon grow into the world's largest manufacturer of padlocks, a status that this company still holds.
In 1931, Harry received the only gold medal ever given by the American Association of Master Locksmiths for the greatest development in locks over the past 50 years. During his years with Master Lock, he became one of the world's foremost authorities on locks. The late Harry Houdini came to Milwaukee to confer with him about keys that could be used to help Houdini escape from handcuffs in his stage acts. In both world wars, Harry Soref served as a security consultant to the armed services. During World War I, he invented special padlocks for protecting tanks.
By the end of 1939, Master Lock had moved into its present Milwaukee, Wisconsin headquarters and production facility at 2600 N. 32nd Street.
Harry continued inventing new locks and improving production of his existing locks. After years of tinkering he came up with an improvement to one of his combination locks that baffled his employees and almost disrupted the plant. He ordered the lock to be assembled backwards, in contrast to the normal production methods.
This innovation not only made it easier to assemble this lock, but also significantly improved the product. He was also the first to use a beaded chain for key chains, more commonly used for light pullcords.
In March 1957, after a short illness, Harry Soref died. His memory will linger in the hearts of his family, associates and countless friends. The fine organization and many contributions he made to the lock industry will remain as a monument to his creative genius.
His longtime friend and original investor Sam Stahl succeeded him as president, until his own death in 1964. At this time the Soref family took complete control of the company with the three principal investors deceased. Six years later Master Lock became a subsidiary of Fortune Brands, formerly American Brands. Today, it is a part of Fortune Brands Home & Security.
Despite the change in ownership, the company continues to follow the tradition of producing innovative products and maintains a focus on constantly improving its manufacturing process.