Manufacturers Save the Banks

By December 29, 2006Taking It for Granted

Blog-Icon-MI.jpgIf you keep money and valuables in a bank or bank vault, you have probably felt pretty secure in keeping them there. Of course, there are today’s hackers and phishers who try to gain access to electronic accounts, but today we are taking a look at would-be robbers who want to get their hands on real cash and jewelry socked away in a bank.

Today we take this kind of security for granted. Yet it wasn’t always the case that banks were so secure so we welcome a new book that describes how bank lock innovators, including the Diebold Co. in Canton, OH, invented and manufactured sophisticated, secure locks beginning in the late 1800s that made bank vaults truly secure. Aptly named, American Genius: Nineteenth Century Bank Locks and Time Locks, the authors (father and son team of John Erroll and David Erroll) chronicle the “clever design, intricate craftsmanship and fine-grooved machinery that goes into sealing up valuables behind thick walls and fiendishly difficult-to-open doors,” as one reviewer put it.

Linus Yale invented a Double Dial bank lock in 1863 which revolutionized the bank lock business with his innovation of using 100 million possible combinations. It was so unique that it won a silver medal at the Paris Exposition in 1867. Of course, banks weren’t the only customers for these locks. So were companies that stored a lot of cash and even the U.S. Treasury. The book is filled with beautiful photographs showing the ingenious inner workings of these locks and the handcrafted artistry of decorative motifs and even folk-life scenes.

The Wall Street Journal reviewer of this book concluded: “such artistry, minute and meant to be hidden, reminds one of the decorative carving high up on skyscraper ledges: beauty that few will see. Never have the nuts and bolts of capitalism looked so good.” One might say that never have the nuts and bolts of the manufacturing process looked so good, for it was the manufacturers who innovated and made these designs into working reality. That’s what manufacturers do, even today. And we wish every one of these indispensible innovators a Happy New Year!

For a full review of the book, check out Stuart Ferguson’s column on page P9 of the December 2, 2006 Wall Street Journal. Click on the book title above for a short description of the book and a picture of its cover on Amazon.