In 1810, the Sargent family entered the hardware business, beginning the trail that eventually led to the present SARGENT Manufacturing Company.
Joseph Bradford Sargent (born Dec 14, 1822) and his two brothers operated a wholesale hardware business in New York City, and subsequently obtained an interest in one of their suppliers, the Peck and Walter Manufacturing Company of New Britain, CT. This company was the predecessor to the present SARGENT Manufacturing Company.
The Sargent brothers bought full ownership of the New Britain firm in 1857. Seven years later, in 1864, they moved the factory to New Haven to be closer to the sea for shipping purposes and the delivery of raw materials, and incorporated under the laws of Connecticut as SARGENT & Co.
Sargents’s original New Haven location was along Water Street (on land now occupied by the Teletrack Theatre and The Maritime Building(s) with a portion of the plant bordering Wallace and Hamilton Street. Prior to the Sargent brothers acquiring this property, it was owned by such historical names as colonial patriot Jesse Leavenworth (1760), Benedict Arnold (1778), Eli Whitney (1807), and the Fulton Steamboat Company (1817).
The original plant started out with a series of five-story brick buildings, storage sheds, and, as the business grew, other buildings were added. Connecting these various structures were “catwalks” or bridges, often spanning busy city streets. By 1914, the SARGENT product catalog listed some 60,000 different items, making it one of the largest hardware manufacturing plants in the United States.
Up until about 1882, Sargent and Co was a distributor for Mallory, Wheeler and Co, a large lock and door hardware manufacturer. After their relationship ended, Sargent started manufacturing their own locks.
In 1875 they became sales agents for Stanley Rule and level Co, but when Leonard Bailey severed his relationship and started his Victor line, Sargent started selling for him. In 1884 Bailey settled with Stanley and Stanley bought out the Victor line.
Sometime after 1884 Sargent started manufacturing their own planes, and in the 1888 catalog both Stanley and Sargent planes were included. At that time the Sargent Line consisted of 7 sizes of Bench plane (#407, 408, 409, 414, 418, 422, 424) along with 19 block planes.
By 1887, the plant had expanded to sixteen acres of floor space and employed almost 1,7000 people. The yearly payroll was $1,000,000 or about $600 per employee per year. The pay rate was $1.50 per ten hour day with a six day work week. Immigrants filled lower employee ranks, with Italians the largest single group. Employees were well treated for the times, but J.B. Sargent refused to tolerate unions. An employee strike occurred in 1902 over employee demands for a union shop and a 15% wage increase. The strike lasted for three weeks until Sargent threatened to replace all striking workers.
Joseph B. Sargent was prominent in the New Haven political scene, and was elected mayor of the city in 1890. In 1892, he was nominated as the Democratic candidate for governor, but was defeated. Upon his death in 1907, his brother, George Stewart Sargent, became president of Sargent and Company.
During World Wars I and II, much of the plant’s production capacity was converted from hardware manufacturing to the production of items needed for the war effort. As men went off to fight the wars in Europe and the Pacific, women began staffing factories like SARGENT in greater and greater numbers as a means of helping with the war effort and to help support their families. By the time WWII ended, nearly 40% of SARGENT’s jobs were held by women, compared with just 10% at the outset of the wars.
The post-war era for SARGENT was marked by an effort to narrow the company’s product offerings. Always known as a high quality manufacturer of locks and door-related mechanisms, the decision was reached by the Sargent family to concentrate more on that niche. This focus gave rise to the development of many lock-related engineering firsts, like the development of the Sargent Keso Security System (1965). This product, still in strong demand today, marked the first major improvement in pin-tumbler lock construction in over one hundred years. By 1964, Sargent stopped manufacturing planes.
Manufacturing in an old multi-story facility became more and more inefficient, so, in the company’s 101st year of operation in New Haven, SARGENT & Company moved to the space we currently occupy on Sargent Drive. This was referred to as “Operation Stone’s Throw”, because of the short distance (1/4 mile) the company was moving. Then, as now, the needs of our customers came first, and the move to the new plant was orchestrated to minimize any time production was impaired.
The “new” plant occupies a one-story structure adjacent to Interstate Highway I-95 overlooking New Haven harbor. It rests on a 30-acre site and is built of steel and curtain wall construction. Overall, the building provides over 300,000 square feet of available floor area.
In 1967, the Sargent family and company stockholders accepted an offer for the company from the Walter Kidde Company, beginning a period of ownership by various financial groups, lasting until January of 1996 when ASSA ABLOY AB acquired SARGENT and several of its “sister” companies. ASSA ABLOY, headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, is the world’s leading lock group. Their holdings in the United States include SARGENT, Arrow Lock Manufacturing Co., Medeco High Security Locks, Securitron Products, Curries Company, Graham Manufacturing Corporation, McKinney Products Company, Yale, Corbin-Russwin, Norton, Rixon, Folger Adam, HES, HID and Ceco.
Since coming under the ASSA ABLOY umbrella, SARGENT has focused on refining their manufacturing processes, along with the development of new and innovative products. Today’s manufacturing plant is made up of five different factories or “Profit Centers”, each producing items particular to their product line (e.g., bored locks, mortise locks, closers, exits, cylinders, or, Production Services – supplying production/ support services to other profit centers). Unlike batch production/ “push” techniques of the past, today we produce “what we need, when we need it, “pulling” product through the factory in a theoretical one-piece flow. Manufacturing areas are centered around production-area configured “cells”; cells generally set-up by the Profit Center employees in a way that will link operations. This joining minimizes material transportation and work-in-process inventory, while fostering maximum efficiency. Complementing the efforts to improve overall efficiency and product quality, has been an aggressive capital expenditure program allowing for sophisticated machine tool purchases to be integrated into the manufacturing process.
On the engineering front, SARGENT continues to lead our industry in new product introductions and innovations to existing product. Our latest frontier is the development of more and more electro-mechanical products, a trend we anticipate will continue well into the future.