Written by Jessi Cole
Master Lock, the pillar brand in the world of security, began in 1921 by inventor and locksmith Harry Soref.
Soref was an inventor by nature and a locksmith by trade. At the time of his invention of the laminated padlock, a padlock built in the same manner of layered steel like bank vaults and battleships, there were only two classes of locks available. Consumers could either purchase a cheap, easily broken into padlock or an expensive, heavy padlock made with very thick steel.
Soref received the patent for his laminated padlock design in 1924.
The breakthrough laminated design allowed for production of strong, reliable, affordable padlocks. After securing investment from two close friends, Soref began Master Lock Company in 1921 with five employees in a single room in a Milwaukee commercial space.
Soref had fond memories of time spent in his youth as a frontman for Barnum and Bailey circus, so he named his initial designs as nods to the circus, names like the Strong Boy lock and Jungle King. And the initial logo for Master Lock was of a lion, the sort of imagery that brings to mind the old traveling circuses.
And, according to popular company lore, Soref met Harry Houdini during his circus days. Later, when Houdini began performing widespread acts, he asked Soref for his advice on where to hide a key to a padlock on his body. Allegedly, Soref is the source of the idea to hide a key between the fingers or under the tongue.
Prohibition helped accelerate the success of the company as the government ordered mass quantities of locks in order to maintain the new laws and keep former bars and breweries under lock and key. In fact, at one point the government ordered a batch of 147,600 padlocks to New York, all of which arrived in one train car.
WWII also increased the demand for Master Lock’s products. The women workers often worked around-the-clock, 7 days a week in order to meet the urgent and essential demands of padlocks for military use.
Master Lock Company has had three different headquarters over its 100 years, the second being a former Pabst brewery.
Harry Soref led his company with grace and humility until the end of his life in 1957. He always remained adamant about improving his employees’ working conditions and ensuring that his employees were happy and content with their labor. He often sacrificed luxuries himself for the good of his employees. In fact, he once cancelled the installation of air conditioning in his and executives’ offices because it could not also be installed in the manufacturing rooms.
Soref was an example of an excellent leader and an accomplished inventor. He held over 80 patents in his lifetime and never stopped thinking and innovating.
Decades later, the company continued to thrive and be trusted by consumers all over the world. In 1974, the Master Lock Company’s marketing team executed one of the most memorable commercials in recent history—the iconic Super Bowl ad that featured a marksman shooting a rifle at a a Master Lock padlock at close range. The lock didn’t open; it maintained its hold and a large hole smoked through the middle of the padlock. This famous commercial ran in ten consecutive Super Bowls until it was finally retired in 1984. It’s considered today one of the best Super Bowl commercials of all time.
The commercial helped solidify the company slogan "Tough Under Fire" into the public's mind.
A few other marketing campaigns stick out in Master Lock’s history. They sponsored an NBA “Player of the Year” award that had recipients such as Michael Jordan and Larry Bird. Johnny Carson talked about the lock on the Tonight Show, and the Today Show featured the padlock as well.
Today, Master Lock continues to take an innovative approach to the development and marketing of the products and brand. Donald Rask, Digital Marketing Specialist, says “We want to engage with our customers and build excitement and interest in our products, as well as reach new audiences.”
Mossy Oak and Master Lock launched their collaboration of camouflage decorated padlocks and cable locks aimed at the hunter and outdoorsman in 2022. These products are flying off the shelves already, with a huge interest by hunters with private property they want to protect and public land hunters with tree stands or cameras they want to lock down. Others purchase for boats, kayaks, four wheelers, camps, and anything they want to keep away from the temptation of theft.
Sandy Baron, Marketing Services Manager, says this is the first time she’s worked on a collaboration like this. She says, “They’re both very strong brands. I’ve been really surprised at the number of people asking me for samples after the press releases went out.”
The collaboration of two strong brands—Master Lock and Mossy Oak—has been hugely successful. Mossy Oak is proud and pleased to work with the 100+ year old iconic company.