Patents That Shaped American Locksmithing, Part 5: Osbourn Dorsey's 2-For-1

The gallery was not found!
Patent Number: 210,764 (Google Patents)
Issue Date: December 10, 1878
Inventor(s): Osbourn Dorsey


Residential door hardware in the United States during the mid-19th century was wildly different from what is in use today. Functioning door knobs and levers weren’t the “norm” of the day; if you were wealthy enough to own locks that used keys, you more than likely opened/closed it with decorative trim or the key itself. Furthermore, aside from a few door closing devices and hinges, people didn’t have much control over the movement of their door(s).
Enter Osbourn Dorsey.
Osbourn Dorsey’s patent would be categorized as a “door holder” today. His “door-holding device” allowed a door to be secured in an open position at any desired angle. Today we can accomplish a similar task with a door closer using a hold-open feature or an electromagnetic door holder or any number of devices (lead bricks were even a popular choice at one point!). Nevertheless, Dorsey’s invention was the first patented device used for the purposes of keeping a door open. Dorsey’s patent contained another first: functioning knob trim.  The “door-holding device” utilized a knob to aid with securing the door into it’s desired position as well as release it.


Door holders would eventually become common door hardware items, still very much in use to this day. Knobs would become arguably the most popular style of door trim in the United States. Unfortunately, due to incomplete patent records, we’re unable to completely say what Dorsey’s impact was on either.
While Dorsey’s innovations were impressive for their time, there’s something equally impressive: Dorsey’s story. Dorsey was around the age of 16 when his patent was granted. Dorsey’s actual age and birthday are, apparently, lost to time. That’s because his age was approximated to be “about eight months” in May of 1863, just 4 months after President Abraham Lincoln issued Proclamation 95. This approximation was required to complete an official petition for freedom from slavery in Washington D.C.  Osbourn Dorsey was an infant born to slave parents who made the journey to the “free states” for their freedom in accordance with Proclamation 95, or the Emancipation Proclamation. 16 years after he unknowingly gained his freedom, Dorsey patented, perhaps unknowingly, two of the biggest innovations in door hardware and he did it on a single patent.

By |2019-02-14T09:00:40+00:00February 14th, 2019|All, History|0 Comments

Medeco Turns 50

On Saturday, Medeco celebrated 50 years in business with a large party at their Salem, Virginia headquarters. I was lucky enough to be there.

Before I discuss the celebration, let me stress how beautiful of a place Salem and the Roanoke Valley is. I took these pictures from Medeco’s parking lot. You would be hard-pressed to find a more picturesque place to live and work.

Hundreds of employees (past and present), their families, customers, vendors, and others in the community attended. There was plenty of food, drinks, games, music, and fun.

There were even keepsakes and souvenirs for the occasion.

Medeco provided factory tours throughout the afternoon. I was fortunate enough to take a tour of the facility. Truthfully, this was the part of the trip I was probably most excited about. No cameras were allowed, for obvious reasons, but I’ll do my best to relay what it’s like while respecting their privacy. I believe I heard, and I may be wrong, that the facility is 132,000 square feet and employs  around 180 people. Suffice to say, it’s a very big facility. When you think of a manufacturing facility things like automation and assembly lines come to mind but with the exception of a few robotics, Medeco’s facility is largely hands on.
There are dozens and dozens of milling and CNC machines, lathes, presses, and then some! Some of the equipment looks like it’s been there since the beginning of Medeco’s journey in 1968, maybe even before then, and some of it looks like it showed up just a week before. They’ve found a way to stick with what works while embracing innovation to succeed. Even more incredible is that it seems that they do just about everything from scratch. They make their own tools, their own prototypes, heck they even make their own machines. If you knew nothing about Medeco and walked into the building blindfolded, you would swear you were inside a machinists’ paradise – in a palace of precision.
In front of a lot of the equipment, I saw piles of brass stock neatly organized. The machines took this stock and made just about every single component and piece of a Medeco key, cylinder, or lock. I saw the machines that make the pins, the machines that make the sidebars, machines that broach keyways into plugs. Machines everywhere, each with a unique purpose.
I particularly enjoyed their plating room. I think we’re all familiar with finished products, pardon the pun. We’re used to seeing the satin chrome plugs and oil rubbed bronze deabolts. But before they hit the plating room, just about every piece is dull brass, literally. The plating room has massive, and I mean massive, tanks to apply the finishes to the various components. I’m sure it’s very much a science to ensure the same bright brass finish produced on a Tuesday is the same as the Tuesday a few years prior.
Everything was something to behold and I’m glad I got to see it. I feel like I could spend an entire week inside and still wouldn’t be able to see or fully appreciate a majority of what goes on.
And if any of you are “lock nerds” like I am, I’ll part with a few more pictures you may enjoy. This was my second visit to Medeco – we stopped by on the way back from ALOA this year. Of course, I had to go see the Mechanical Development Company on that first visit.

Thank you very much to Medeco for the invitation and hospitality. Let’s do it again in another 50!
If you would like to know more about the history of Medeco, I wrote an article about the origins of the “Medeco Original” earlier this year. Check it out.

By |2018-10-22T09:00:56+00:00October 22nd, 2018|All, High Security, History, Industry|0 Comments

Locksmith News – 4/23/2018

Today we’re introducing a new feature to our website: weekly news stories for locksmiths. Each Monday we will recap the past week of news as it relates to the locksmith industry via links to articles and press briefings from around the world. This is a work in progress so stick with us as we get our “sea legs”. Thanks.

Case Study

Classroom Intruder Locks


Door Closers

ASSA ABLOY UK new door closer design



ISC West 2018

Wireless Electronic Locks

Apple Watch

Patents That Shaped American Locksmithing, Part 4: The Sidebar Lock

The gallery was not found! Patent Number: 167,088 (Google Patents)
Issue Date: August 24, 1875
Inventor(s): Philo S. Felter


Philo S. Felter might be one of the most underrated and unknown innovators in the history of locks. In March of 1868 Philo received a patent for one of the earliest, if not the earliest, wafer tumbler lock designs (Patent No. 99,013). On August 24, 1875 Philo was issued a patent for another revolutionary cylinder design. Philo’s cylinder utilized a locking bar to prevent plug rotation. Philo called it a “fence-bar”, we know it today as a sidebar. When the proper key was inserted it would lift the “notches in the tumbler” to the proper height to accept the fence-bar. Once this happened, the fence-bar could enter the plug far enough to allow the plug to be rotated.
Taking things a step further, Philo implemented multiple “false notches”, or what we now call false gates, in each tumbler. This greatly added to the lock’s pick-resistance. Additionally, if taking the patent at face value, the new cylinder design was to be paired with rim night latches, which were very popular at the time.
Unfortunately, the sidebar design never really caught on at the time. The sidebar concept laid largely dormant in the American market for the next 58 years. Then, as fate would have it, a new mind revisited the concept.The gallery was not found! Patent Number: 1,965,336 (Google Patents)
Issue Date: July 3, 1934
Inventor(s): John W. FitzGerald
Enter John W. FitzGerald. In July of 1934, FitzGerald received a patent for a wafer tumbler lock design that utilized a sidebar. Utilizing 4 different depths (eventually growing to 6) across 6 positions, this new design offered a great number of possible bitting combinations and, unlike the popular pin tumbler automotive locks at the time, it was very, very pick-resistant.
FitzGerald, unlike Philo, had perhaps the greatest series of circumstances that would ensure that his design would flourish:
First, it was the 1930s. Bootlegging, bank robberies, and automobile theft occurred at an alarming rate. Gangsters, mobsters, and crime rings were rampant; criminals like Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde, and Dutch Schultz were mainstays in the newspapers of the day for their “activities”. As a result, automotive manufacturers and insurance companies were looking to protect automobiles as much as reasonably possible. A lock that offered greater pick-resistant than it’s contemporaries was right up their alley.

Second, FitzGerald was an employee of the Briggs & Stratton Corporation. By the end of the 1920s, Briggs & Stratton had manufactured and shipped more than 11 million automotive locks to nearly 130 manufacturers, including Chrysler, the Dodge Brothers, Ford, and General Motors. At the time, they were largest manufacturer of automobile locks in the world. Needless to say, the design was in the right hands.


In 1935 Briggs & Stratton began selling it’s new sidebar lock to General Motors. It quickly became a hit and would go on to be perhaps the most popular automobile lock ever made, appearing in all GM models for the next 50 years.
Sidebar designs didn’t end with the Briggs & Stratton and GM; other automotive manufacturers, such as Chrysler and Ford, began to utilize sidebar locks as well. Sidebar designs would find additional, widespread usage in high security locks. High security locks utilizing a sidebar include:

  • Abloy Classic
  • Abloy Disklock
  • Abloy Exec
  • Abloy Profile
  • Abloy Protec
  • Abloy Protec2
  • ASSA Twin Combi
  • ASSA Twin V-10
  • BiLock FG
  • BiLock NG
  • BiLock QC
  • Chicago TuBAR
  • EVVA 3KS
  • Fichet 450/480
  • Medeco3, or M3
  • Medeco Biaxial
  • Medeco BiLevel
  • Medeco Original
  • Mul-T-Lock MT5
  • Schlage Primus
  • Schlage Primus XP
  • Scorpion CX-5
  • Zeiss-Ikon Sperwellen
  • Zeiss-Ikon SK6 ZSE/ZSV

Sidebar designs aren’t restricted to high security locks, however. The following locks utilize sidebars as well:

  • Kwikset SmartKey
  • Schlage Everest 29 SL
  • Schlage SecureKey (Discontinued)

Much like the Blake brothers and the cylindrical lock, Philo S. Felter’s design was well ahead of it’s time. And while Philo might not have received his rightful “due” for this sidebar design, there is a lot to be said about an idea that, nearly 150 years after it became a reality, continues to be a hit.

By |2018-04-16T09:00:35+00:00April 16th, 2018|All, Cores and Cylinders, High Security, History, Locks|1 Comment

Patents That Shaped American Locksmithing, Part 3: Walter R. Schlage's Cylindrical Lock

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Patent Number: 1,674,841 (Google Patents)
Filing Date: August 20, 1923
Issue Date: June 26, 1928
Inventor(s): Walter R. Schlage
I would personally consider the 19th century as the “golden era” of lock innovation and discovery. The first half of the century, or at least a large portion of it depending on who is defining it, was part of the Industrial Revolution. New manufacturing processes and factories allowed for innovation and inventions never before seen. Men like John Wilkinson and Henry Maudslay helped usher in a new wave of development in machining and tooling. Among the Wilkinson’s and Maudslay’s of the world were the Blake brothers of New Haven, Connecticut. On December 31, 1833, they received a patent for their “escutcheon latch” which was, for all intents and purposes, the forerunner of the modern cylindrical lock.
The “escutcheon latch” was a radical departure from the norm of the time: the mortise lock. Rather than a lock case operated by a key and/or auxiliary trim, the escutcheon latch contained a latch and knob trim that were much, much smaller and utilized a door prep that paled in comparison to it’s mortise counterparts. To quote lock historian Thomas F. Hennessey, “This type lock was almost one hundred years ahead of its time as it did not become popular in the lock industry until the 1930s.” While the “escutcheon latch” never caught up, other inventors sought to create their own version of what could compete with and perhaps even replace the mortise lock. Other early patents related to modern cylindrical and tubular locks included:

In 1923, however, Walter Reinhold Schlage, a German who immigrated to the United States and created his own lock company, filed a patent for what we now call the cylindrical lock. Walter’s version utilized knob trim, and relied on a just two small holes in the door to install. This patent wasn’t the first or last Walter received for a version of a cylindrical lock, however. Others included:

With his design, Walter was able to successfully challenge the mortise lock, the de facto standard for doors, exterior and interior, found in American residences. Schlage’s invention allowed doors to be fitted with a lock at a fraction of the time and cost of mortise locks. Furthermore, largely due to his companies’ existing manufacturing capabilities – which were able to manufacturer 20,000 locks a month by 1925, Walter was able to mass produce the lock. The lock became a hit and locks in America would never be the same. The cylindrical lock still remains the overwhelming standard in American residential construction. It also has a very large market share in commercial construction as well.
Over the course of his life, Walter Schlage was issued an astounding 250 patents related to locks. In 1946, Walter died but his companies continued to flourish. Schlage continued to expand and purchased other lock and door hardware companies, such as LCN. In 1974, Schlage was acquired by Ingersoll and Rand and in turn acquired new manufacturing facilities in New Zealand (1975) and Colorado (1976). Schlage would relocate it’s administrative offices to Colorado in 1997 while keeping it’s Technical Services and Customer Services divisions in San Francisco. In 2013, Schlage, along with 23 other global brands, were acquired by Allegion, where they still operate to this day.

By |2018-03-12T07:00:42+00:00March 12th, 2018|All, Cylindrical and Tubular, History, Locks|0 Comments

Patents That Shaped American Locksmithing, Part 2: Frank Ellison Best's Interchangeable Core

The gallery was not found!
Patent Number: 1,561,771 (Google Patents)
Filing Date: March 18, 1922
Issue Date: November 17, 1925
Inventor(s): Frank E. Best


Frank Ellison Best was a high school custodian for a large high school in Washington state (incorrect, see update below). His key ring reportedly carried upwards of 100 keys, one for virtually each door. When a key was lost for one of these doors/locks, Frank was tasked with rekeying it. Frank was determined to create a better lock that allowed for a faster and more economical rekeying process. For 7 years, Frank tinkered with ideas. In 1922, he applied for patents for two of those ideas. The first (1,500,297), filed in February, secured a “figure 8” core into a cylinder housing by use of a screw.

The second (1,561,771), filed a month later in March, secured a similar “figure 8” core into a cylinder housing as well but rather than rely on a screw it used the core’s “extending shoulder”. This extending shoulder is what is commonly known as the “control lug” today. Furthermore, this extending shoulder could be retracted by use a special key, eventually known as a “control key”. This meant that a core could be removed and replaced in seconds with nothing more than a key. It’s not hard to imagine which core eventually caught on.
Frank would go on to form Frank E. Best, Inc., which became the patent holder for his core and other patents. Best would also create a separate company, Best Universal Lock Corporation, in 1925 to manufacturer and sell his new core and locks. In 1938, Best and his company would relocate to downtown Indianapolis, Indiana, where the company remains to this day.


In 1966, Frank Best passed away. Frank left behind quite a legacy, accumulating 58 patents for locks, keys, and lock related equipment throughout his life. Frank Best’s oldest son, Walter, became President of Best in 1966 and held that position until 1994. Best Lock Corporation’s mechanical lock hardware line was fully developed during Walter’s tenure. According to Best company literature, Walter saw sales grow from $4.5 million in 1966 to $104.6 million in 1994. Keying systems using Best’s “small format interchangeable core” became synonymous with many institutions such as schools, hospitals, colleges and universities, government offices, and even military installations.
Russell Best, Frank’s grandson, acquired Best Lock Corporation in May of 1994 from his father Walter. In November 1997 Best Lock Corporation became Best Access Systems. On November 25, 2002, Stanley Works purchased all of Russell Best’s holdings to become the new owner of the company. The company became Stanley Security Solutions although they continued doing business as Best Access Systems. In 2010 Stanley Works and Black & Decker would merge to become Stanley Black & Decker. On February 22, 2017, Best was acquired, along with other Stanley Black & Decker mechanical security businesses phi Precision and GMT, by dormakaba. The deal was worth $725 million. Throughout it all, Best Access Systems remains one of the premiere lock manufacturers in business today.

Update (2/20/2018)

Man oh man did we get some details wrong. Not long after this was posted, we received a copy of Frank Best’s obituary (posted below) from Zach J. Olson through a mutual friend. A few corrections therefore must be made using this new information:

  • Frank Best was actually a teacher, not a janitor, at the high school.
  • Frank Best’s genius wasn’t just limited to locks.

The story of Frank being a janitor is one that is repeated throughout this industry; in fact, it’s the first sentence on the current BEST Access “About BEST” web page. I hope this was in error on their part because honestly, the true story is far more interesting and far better than what I, and many others, have been told about the man. We apologize for any confusion we may have created. Thank you for the update Zach!

Photo credit: Zach J. Olson

By |2018-02-19T07:00:35+00:00February 19th, 2018|All, Cores and Cylinders, History, Locks|0 Comments

Patents That Shaped American Locksmithing, Part 1: Medeco Original

The gallery was not found!
Patent Number: 3,499,302 (Google Patents)
Filing Date: March 1, 1967
Issue Date: March 10, 1970
Inventor(s): Roy C. Spain, Roy N. Oliver, Elvis C. Flora, Paul A. Powell


Linus Yale Jr. formed the Yale Lock Manufacturing Company with Henry R. Towne in 1868. Yale flourished and by 1953 the company decided it was necessary to decentralize the manufacturing facilities of the Yale Lock and Hardware division. New plants were built in Gallatin, Tennessee, Lenoir City, Tennessee, Monroe, North Carolina, and Salem, Virginia. One employee of the Salem plant, which focused on automotive and industrial locks, was Roy C. Spain. By all accounts, Spain was a gifted inventor. Spain had many patents issued between the 1940s and 1960s. These patents included:

During his time at Yale, Spain partnered with Paul A. Powell to form a tool and die company known as the Mechanical Development Company. Originally started in Spain’s basement, the company would eventually relocate to a standalone building not far from the Yale plant in Salem. Sometime during this period, Elvis C. Flora and Roy N. Oliver joined the Mechanical Development Company. According to a Medeco company presentation, Flora and Oliver, upon learning that Spain had created a prototype of key that used angular cuts, urged Spain to fully develop the his lock concept. Spain would eventually leave Yale and devote himself full time to his company and idea. Not long after this, the Mechanical Development Company produced what would become the “Medeco Original”, or Medeco’s original high security platform.
Prototypes of the design were manufactured and then sent to various manufacturers throughout the U.S., presumably to gauge interest as well as find out if any manufacturer was interested in mass production of them. No manufacturers were, however, believing that it couldn’t be manufactured in an economical and consistent manner. Since the group had already created a number of prototypes and proven to themselves that it could be, they decided to begin selling them under a new business with a new name: Medeco, taking the first two letters from the original companies name.


Medeco became wildly successful marketing and selling their “original” product and would eventually become the largest manufacturer of high security locks in the United States. At some point in the early 1970’s, Spain, then President of Medeco, issued the infamous $10,000 challenge to anyone who could pick open their cylinder. NYC detective Bob McDermott successfully picked one cylinder but since he could not do it twice, which the challenge supposedly stipulated, he was not able to cash in. McDermott was hired as a sales rep for Medeco shortly thereafter.
In 1974, Oliver became the president of Medeco, which soon opened a 58,000 square foot facility in Salem. This facility is a few thousand feet from the banks of the Roanoke River. Roanoke is an Algonquian word that, according to English explorer John Lawson and most in academia, translates to… money. Medeco’s success continued and they soon became the preferred choice of many U.S. government facilities, including embassies abroad. In 1984, Medeco was sold to Hillenbrand Industries Inc. In 1998, Hillenbrand Industries sold Medeco to ASSA ABLOY. Today, Medeco still operates successfully as an ASSA ABLOY group company.
Medeco’s innovation didn’t end with their original design. In 1988, they were granted a patent (4,732,022) for the original design’s successor: Biaxial. The successor to the Biaxial, the Medeco3 or M3, was granted a patent in 2005 (6,945,082). Other patented platforms included KeyMark (Re. 35,518 E) and KeyMark/Medeco X4 (8,186,194 B2).
And as for the Mechanical Development Company? Their existence didn’t end with the creation of Medeco. Powell’s family now owns the company and they’re still in business in Salem, not far from Medeco’s current headquarters and the original Yale plant, less than a thousand feet from the Roanoke.
Special thanks to Billy B. Edwards for his insight on some items discussed in this article.

By |2018-02-04T07:00:38+00:00February 4th, 2018|All, High Security, History, Locks|0 Comments
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