Safekeeping

For more than a decade, every morning I opened the doors to the Archives Center’s vault. The doors, made by the Mosler Safe Company of Hamilton, Ohio, have protected portions of the national collections since 1964 when the National Museum of American History (then known as the National Museum of History of Technology) opened. Behind these heavy, solid, gray doors are hundreds of collections documenting the history of American technology, invention, consumer culture, music, and popular culture. Among these collections are manuscripts, posters, sound recordings, visual ephemera, motion picture film, historical photographs, and oral histories.

20130404_08004620130404_080104The Mosler Safe Company was created by Gustave Mosler (1816-1874), an Austrian immigrant who came to the United States in 1849.  Mosler joined the safe manufacturing firm Diebold, Bahmann and Company in 1859 and began to see other possibilities for safe manufacturing. In 1869, Mosler formed Mosler, Bahmann and Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. The company, which was run primarily by four of Mosler’s sons (Moses, William, Max, and Julius) was renamed Mosler Safe Company in 1876. In 1891, the company moved its operations from Cincinnati to Hamilton, Ohio, where it has been ever since. Numerous patents were issued to the Mosler Safe Company, beginning in 1880 with Moses Mosler’s US Patent 229,905 for a safe. Mosler appeared to have a good share of the “safe” market and was a trusted brand among banks, not to mention our museum. After all, the name Mosler meant safety.

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Mosler Safe Company factory, Hamilton, Ohio, 1932. “Mosler Safe Company Catalog,” 1932. Smithsonian Institution Libraries Trade Literature Collection.

Mosler insulated flat sill vault doors, Mosler Safe Company Catalog, 1932. Smithsonian Institution Libraries Trade Literature Collection.

Mosler insulated flat sill vault doors, Mosler Safe Company Catalog, 1932. Smithsonian Institution Libraries Trade Literature Collection.

Mosler-Corliss patent fire-proof bank vault doors, The Mosler-Corliss System of Security against Burglary, Mobs and Fire, 1897. Smithsonian Institution Libraries Trade Literature Collection.

Mosler-Corliss patent fire-proof bank vault doors, The Mosler-Corliss System of Security against Burglary, Mobs and Fire, 1897. Smithsonian Institution Libraries Trade Literature Collection.

Trade card for Mosler Safe Company, undated.  Safes and Vaults, Warshaw Collection of Business Americana.

Trade card for Mosler Safe Company, undated. Safes and Vaults, Warshaw Collection of Business Americana.

I’m waxing sentimental over these vault doors because they were recently replaced by a new door that uses modern access control card reader technology. There was something wonderful about spinning the combination lock, hitting all the numbers just right, and then hearing the familiar sound of “click” that signaled success. For anyone who struggled with a combination lock, you can appreciate my joy. Once open, the vault began another day of service to the numerous archivists who crossed its threshold, seeking collections for eager researchers. The new door and technology was inevitable, but I already miss those Mosler doors. To learn more about our remarkable collections visit the Archives Center.
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Sources

Boyer, Mike. “Mosler slams door on 300 workers,” The Cincinnati Enquirer http://enquirer.com/editions/2001/08/04/loc_1mosler_slams_door_on.html (last accessed April 8, 2013)

Encyclopedia of Biography, “William Mosler, Manufacturer, Man of Enterprise,” pages 568-171.  American Historical Society, 1920.

Spencer, Jean E. “Queen City History, Willie Sutton’s Nemesis,” Cincinnati Magazine, October 1973.