Mosler Safe Co., linked with banking for much of its history, also prominent contributor to U. S. Cold War defenses

Employee Reunion Saturday, July 19

Mosler Safe Co., linked with banking for much of its history, also prominent contributor to U. S. Cold War defenses

(The Mosler Safe Co. employed thousands of residents of the Hamilton area for 110 years. Mosler closed its local plant in 1996 and its corporate headquarters in 2001 when the company went bankrupt. Saturday evening, July 19, former employees will share memories at the Mosler 2014 Reunion at the Courtyard by Marriott in Hamilton. For more information and registration, e-mail Gene Gabbard at Gene@GeneGabbard.com. This article is the second in a three-part series on Mosler history.)

Compiled by Jim Blount

A "second family" reunion is scheduled in Hamilton Saturday evening July 19. Officially, it's the Mosler 2014 Reunion, but to many who plan to attend it will be more than mingling with former colleagues who worked for a company that was the city's goodwill ambassador around the world for more than a century.

"The employees of Mosler, for the time I worked there, were fabulous people. We were truly a family," said Sandy Baker, who, in 38 and a half years, went from delivering the mail to secretary to the president." Baker's grandfather and mother worked at Mosler. "When I was 10," she explains, "my grandfather would take me to work with him on Saturday. I would sit at an old hunt and peck typewriter" and express a desire to be a secretary.

Agreeing with Baker is Richard Heck, a 42-year employee of the Mosler Safe company, the third generation of his family to work at the company that moved from Cincinnati to Hamilton in 1891. Eddie Scherer, a 32-year employee, followed his grandfather and father at Mosler.

Dennis L. Wright said his "first 30 years with Mosler were filled with accomplishments, rewarding experiences and lifelong relationships with people who became mentors, friends, even godfathers."

During his 43-year career, Maurice Jones won the respect of his colleagues, who gave him a fitting nickname, "the safecracker," matching his abilities. Since retirement from Mosler, Jones remains "the safecracker," operating an Online service for "the safe and lock community around the world."

Most of those who will attend the July 19 reunion started at Mosler in the 1950s or later. Their recollections are of a company that changed after World War II. According to recent interviews, their fondest memories extend into the mid 1980s. In the opinion of a long-time employee, "in the latter years, the [company's] emphasis was not on holding the highest standards and quality, but on producing higher profits with cheaper products, thus leveling the playing field with our competitors."

Mosler closed its Hamilton plant on Grand Boulevard in 1996 and its corporate headquarters on Berk Boulevard in 2001 when the company went bankrupt.

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Mosler was linked with banking for much of its history. That includes the prolonged Great Depression, usually dated from October 1929. Financial institutions struggled to survive during the 1930s. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933 more than 5,500 U. S. banks had failed. Reforming the system was FDR's first task.

Obviously, modernization and capital improvements to buildings ranked low in banking priority through the 1930s. Banks retained a 1920s until after the World War II years, 1941-1945, because emphasis on war production and government restrictions on non-military construction.

A Mosler publication noted that "the automobile, perhaps more than any other item or event, changed the banking industry in the decades following World War II." Mosler was a leader in that change, according to Nils O. Pearson, who was employed in Mosler's national installation and service division (NISD) from 1953 through 1997.

"While the very first drive-in banking window was introduced in 1939 at the First National Bank in Boston by Mosler," Pearson recalls, "growth in drive-in banking mushroomed in the late '50s and early '60s" when bank patrons began driving to the bank instead of walking there.

"Subsequently, the product line became more sophisticated with the development of (1) Snorkel units, a mirrored, chain driven mechanical system under the sidewalk from the teller to the curbside customer in their automobile; (2) TV Auto-Banker, a pneumatic tube system married to closed circuit television for remote drive up banking; (3) Tellervue, a line of sight pneumatic tube without TV; and (4) Tellermatic, Mosler's pioneering ATM that was leaps and bounds ahead of NCR/IBM, but died an early death due to less than brilliant marketing ploys," explains Pearson.

* * * * *
Richard Heck, and others, believe Mosler made a key move in 1960. That year, Heck says, "A. Dee Grover was appointed as VP of service operations to oversee and develop the service division [NISD] at Mosler. Mr. Grover made this operation a driving force by focusing on providing excellent customer service and state-of-the art products. To better serve the customer base with new products in bank security, alarms, photo security, drive-up windows, remote transaction system, etc. The service division accounted for a third of Mosler's revenue."

Nils Pearson notes that "better than 25% of Mosler employees were in the NISD service centers located across the nation and in Puerto Rico." Another company service, Pearson adds, were "Mosler-conducted anti-crime seminars for local and federal law enforcement agencies."

Part of the service emphasis was creation of a Mosler training center on Belle Avenue and later on Berk Boulevard in Hamilton.

* * * * *
The Cold War -- defined by one source as "the state of political hostility that existed between the Soviet bloc countries and the U.S.-led Western powers" -- doesn't have an official start date. Historians don't agree. Assertions range from 1945, when World War II ended, to 1949, when the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb. Some contend it began during World War II when it was evident Soviet military moves had motives beyond Germany's submission and surrender.

Because of secrecy, Mosler's enlistment date also is uncertain, but is was early in the tense conflict that extended until 1991. For more than four decades, work at the Hamilton plant and other Mosler facilities included a range of government contracts. Details are scarce, but Pearson says Mosler "developed and manufactured some rather sophisticated surveillance and monitoring equipment for government agencies." Mosler gained creditability when it donated vaults and safes to be subjected to atomic tests in the Nevada desert.

Safes and vault doors, the traditional products, were still in demand -- not just to hold money, checks and securities, but to protect sensitive documents from intrusion, fire and nuclear attacks. The customer base expanded beyond financial institutions. Companies across the business spectrum required the security and surveillance equipment produced by Mosler.

One of Mosler's well known clients was the Atomic Energy Commission, created in 1946 and succeeded by the Energy Research and Development Administration of the U. S. Department of Energy and eventually the U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

A predictable Mosler reunion topic will be recollections of varied work experiences at the White House, the Pentagon and other Washington-area locations; the secretive congressional retreat at the Greenbrier in West Virginia; Oak Ridge in Tennessee and other AEC sites across the nation; gold and silver depositories at Fort Knox and West Point, N. Y.; the U. S. Air Force's Strategic Air Command (SAC) bases; and special assignments involving the FBI, CIA, Secret Service, the military and other federal agencies.

* * * * *
Edwin W. Mosler Jr., after graduating from Harvard, went to work in Hamilton in 1940 and quickly won the respect of Mosler employees. He returned after army service in World War II and was board chairman when he retired in 1966. He died in 1982.  The majority of people who worked under his direction laud the energy, imagination and leadership he brought to the company. Although he resided in New York, he was often visible and accessible in the Hamilton plant and offices and in the community.

Eddie Schemer's evaluation of Ed Mosler is typical of views expressed by other Mosler employees at all levels of the company.

"In my opinion," Scherer says, "he was the last true leader of Mosler. He pioneered team-building before it became fashionable."

"Mr. Mosler was a leader and visionary in banking and commercial security nationwide," adds Richard Heck. He "was a team player who was very personable and took an interest in all of his employees."

A colleague noted a glowing account in a 1973 company publication describing the company that Ed Mosler crafted. It said: "Today Mosler is an international security leader, serving most countries of the Free World. From its beginning in 1867, the company has grown from 18 employees to a complex, technical network of people and facilities totaling more than 4,000. Better than 25% of the company’s complement are employed in the National Service Organization located in more than 100 service centers across the nation -- an impressive testimony for our many thousands of valued employees."

* * * * *
When the Cold War began, federal leaders sought protection for the Charters of Freedom -- the Declaration of Independence, (1776) the Constitution (1787) and the Bill of Rights (1791). Mosler designed, manufactured and installed the vault that secured the original documents displayed at the National Archives in Washington, D. C. Mosler pride went into that vault. Mosler didn't charge the government. Edwin Mosler ordered workers from the Hamilton plant to do whatever was necessary, regardless of cost. Quality was the goal.

President Harry Truman dedicated the completed project in December 1952. Mosler employees maintained the equipment for decades. By the mid 1980s, the Charters of Freedom exhibit required changes and improvements.

"Mosler was involved in the renovation," recalls Richard Heck. "Mosler's engineering department presented concept drawing and submitted a bid package. The government liked Mosler's renovation concepts, but Mosler's cost for the renovation was higher than our competitor, Diebold." Heck said "Diebold's bid was zero dollars," as it had been in the '50s.

"Many in Mosler were upset about Mosler's bid [seeking payment for the work] and losing the distinction of Mosler protecting the nation's most important documents. Ed Mosler, if he had still been alive and owner of the company, would have never allowed this to have happened
."

* * * * *
Changes in banking operations and federal regulations eroded some of Mosler's business in the 1980s. "The government required all banks to have security alarm systems, vaults and safe equipment during the 70's and 80's," explained Richard Heck. But bank operation changes "slowed down expansion projects. ATMs and banking on-line were the future path for the banking industry. ATMs were and could be installed in just about any place -- shopping malls, restaurants, etc. You didn't need a bank building and teller, thereby eliminating the need for vaults, safes and counter systems that Mosler previously serviced to the banking industry." [The invention and first use of the automatic teller machine, or ATM, is uncertain, according to several sources.]

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The 1980s were also known as the years of "the leveraged buyout boom." Mergers and buyouts weren't new then. That's when high-value transactions became more numerous, perhaps more intense, more evident (thanks to expanding electronic media) and subject to public and professional criticism.

A few of the terms heard frequently by people who followed the stock market and the investment business included hostile takeover, asset stripping, financial distress, debt restructuring, management buyout, private equity and corporate raiders. Some describe it as a brutal era when a company's profits and assets mattered, not the quality of its products, and not qualified, experienced and loyal employees who were responsible for serving and maintaining a loyal customer base.

In the view of some former employees, Mosler was a victim of some financial transactions that began years before its 2001 bankruptcy. A deal that was supposed to boost Mosler sales and profitability actually backfired, according to a former employee. The acquired company wasn't what it had been billed to be. Only "the upper management [of the acquired company] profited by the acquisition," said the Mosler source.

Another person recalls a Hamilton meeting in January 1998, when "it was apparent events were speedily moving in a negative direction and the continuing health of the company was in serious jeopardy." The same person adds: "It is almost unimaginable to believe a business enterprise with this rich a history, size, vibrancy and employee devotion could disappear in such a short time span without intentional stimulus to that end."

Another viewpoint: Greed "did Mosler in." . . . "Mosler was always profitable, but when owners take all the profits first and leave nothing for products and labor costs, what do you expect these results are going to be?"

Did labor problems lead to the 1996 closing of the Grand Boulevard plant? "Not true," asserts an employee who didn't work in that building. "Factory workers gave up many concessions to the company to keep the factory operating. The end came when the company locked the men out and closed the factory down."

"In the end," observes another Mosler veteran, "the stock wasn't worth the paper it was written on. There was a steady decline, but some management kept telling people it was valuable. Most people owned common stock . . . that really took the hit. For those who owned preferred stock, they came out pretty good, a lot better than the common stock owners who got nothing."

* * * * *
The good decades and the declining years are certain to be topics at the Mosler 2014 Reunion. So too will be memories of the "fabulous people," who, according to Sandy Baker, "were truly a family."

Baker explains: "If some one needed a baby sitter, word would spread and some one would say 'Joe that works in Department 52 has a wife who baby sits.' If some one was down on their luck, a department(s) would chip in and collect some money for them. We took care of each other. That's just the way it was -- that was the company I knew and loved.

"Shop guys and office guys played in the same golf league, bowled together, played softball together," she continued. "Couples went on vacation together. It didn't matter where you worked, you were family. If your mom or dad worked there, you were sure to be hired. Employees were promoted from within."

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In conjunction with the Mosler 2014 Reunion, the Butler County Historical Society, 327 North Second Street, Hamilton, is featuring a display of Mosler products, photos and memorabilia in its museum in the Emma Ritchie Auditorium. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Saturday. For more information, phone 513-896-9930.


Jim Blount's local history books are available in Hamilton at the Butler County Historical Society, 327 N. Second Street, and the Ross Avenue Barber Shop, 907 Ross Avenue. His history columns are posted periodically on the Lane Libraries web site and are also available via email subscription. A searchable archive of these columns, including Mr. Blount's columns from the Journal-News dating back to 1988, is available at www.lanepl.org/blount.htm.

 

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