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Walter Schlage – The Lock Wizard of Thuringia
Few inventors have made as significant contributions to modern industry as Walter Schlage. Fewer did so in such a colorful way. Walter Schlage’s name is synonymous with Schlage locks today, and his experiments changed the way people viewed home and business security.
Walter Schlage was born in Thuringia, Germany in the late 1800s. As a boy, he spent much of his early life wandering around the hotel his father owned. Schlage worked some, but probably spent more of his time in the hotel listening to the stories of hotel guests. Young Schlage had a penchant for adventure and thrived on the travel escapades of hotel guests. The wild boy, who longed for his own adventures, showed an aptitude for mechanics at a very young age. His father recognized his son’s drive and ambition and worked hard to save money to send his son to train at the Carl Zeiss Optical Works School. At a time when many people did not finish elementary school, Walter Schlage showed maturity and intellect beyond his years, and was admitted to the school at the age of 14.
Carl Zeiss predated Walter Schlage by several decades, and was a leading inventor and engineer in his time. The Zeiss company produced precision optical instruments, including microscopes, and many types of optical glass. The Zeiss training center taught academics, mechanics and engineering to aspiring and promising protégés like Schlage. Walter Schlage graduated at the age of 18 with a special distinction of merit for his aptitude as an engineer. After finishing his studies he started working in London, England as an instrument maker. However, his work did not last long. A sharp enough worker, Schlage had failed to shake the travel adventure bug that bit him when he worked as a boy in his father’s hotel.
He left his job to venture even further from his German home, where he had by then become known as “The Lock Wizard of Thuringia” because of his adept locksmithing skills. He crossed the ocean to settle in the United States where he took a position with the Western Electric Company. However, his love of sightseeing drew him from his other love of inventing and engineering. In short, Schlage left Western Electric to captain a ship and fulfill a lifelong dream of seeing the world. Eventually, Walter Schlage got fed up with life at sea and made his way back to the United States. He went back to work for Western Electric. He was an employee by day, and at night he would tinker in his home workshop inventing and tweaking locks. In fact, locks became his life’s passion. His first patent was years ahead of his time and considered somewhat novel, although a miracle of technology nonetheless.
He made a door lock that could turn lights on and off. His first patent in 1909 inspired an entrepreneurial spirit, and Walter Schlage left Western Electric for good in 1920 to start his own company. Thus the Schlage Lock Company was born. It was as his own boss that he developed the world’s first cylindrical lock, with a push button in the center. His invention revolutionized the security industry and became the standard other lock companies strive for. Although other manufacturers have continued to copy his design, Schlage locks are still the main brand when it comes to door locks. Walter Schlage died in 1946, six years after winning the “Modern Pioneer Award”. This honor is given annually to American inventors who have made significant contributions to modern technology or society. Thanks to a partnership venture in 1927 with business-savvy Charles Kendrick, the Schlage Lock Company has grown and flourished for more than sixty years. Several large and prominent business contracts in the early years of the Schlage Lock Company catapulted the Schlage brand name to public prominence. The company remains the most trusted for home and commercial security today. It has become a fitting legend and tribute to “The Lock Wizard of Thuringia”, who became an American lock wizard in his own right.
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