if you are among the hundreds of residents in the Portage area who have a combination  lock on your front door, consider yourself among the historically elite. Depending upon the year of its purchase, yours is either a Miller or a Gougler door lock, and it could be 95 years old. At any rate, it's a museum piece and a product that figures prominently in an interesting Kent industrial story.

    Revival of interest in a Kent product which has disap-peared from the market came this past week when United Press International circulated a story about many area residents in this security-conscious world living behind doors protected by aging little dials…Gougler locks. The story is much bigger and historically significant than that.  

     Turn back the clock to I888. That's the year James B. Miller of Kent incorporated the Miller Lock Co. for the purpose of manufacturing a combination lock known as
the "Douds Patent Permutation Lock," so named for its inventor, J. B. Douds.

    Miller had been a railroader and, among other positions, had served as superintendent of the Atlantic and Great Western shops in Kent and Galion. He left railroading to establish the Railway Speed Recorder Co. in Kent, which manufactured a device for recording the speed and stops of trains. The firm was located on North Water Street in
a building which later was occupied by the Davey Compressor Company

    The recorder business thrived for many years, but
finally the product was made obsolete by introduction of the railway block system. That's when he turned to the production of this unique lock. He developed and refined Douds' lock invention, and for 57 years locks were produced under the Miller name in a plant on Lock Street, off Lake Street, in Kent.

   The Miller lock, produced for doors as well as in padlock types, be came nationally known. They were particularly popular in Kent, Meadville, Pennsylvania, and Marion, Ohio, because railroaders moving through Kent purchased them here and took them home to the two other cities, which were division points on the Erie Railroad.

jb-miller    Miller was one of Kent's most prominent entrepreneurs. He was a councilman and was among the first officers of the Kent Board of Trade, the forerunner of the Kent Area Chamber of Commerce. He was one of the first in Kent to own an automobile and was the city's first Ford dealer. Upon his death in I927, the business passed to his two sons, Jamie and Ned, who ran the company

and manufactured the lock under the name Miller Keyless Locks until I945. In that year, they sold out to the C. L. Gougler Industries, which produced the locks in its Lake Street plant.

    Charles McGarry, who resides in Kent, was employed by the Miller firm and went with Gougler at the time of the sale. McGarry's wife, Juanita, and her brother, Paul, also of Kent, are children of Jamie Miller and are the only members of the Miller family (except for their children)
still remaining in Kent.

    The lock division of Gougler continued to manufacture the combination locks under its own name until the 70s, when the division was sold to a family in Columbus. Coincidentally, that family also was named Miller. Robert Breckenridge, president of Gougler Industries, reports that the Columbus Miller family continued to make the locks for several years and then went bankrupt. Tragically, all of the lock tooling and parts were sold for scrap. Today, Miller or Gougler locks are unobtainable, as are new parts to repair them, much to the consternation of the many homeowners who swear by the locks and are reluctant to give them up after many years' service.

Bob Phillips, a 63-year-old retired rubberworker who does business in Rootstown as the Phillips Locksmith Shop, is a real believer in the old combination locks. He says they're safe, even by modern standards, inasmuch as they have a straight bar, rather than a tapered one, and they can't be opened by slipping in a credit card like some of the knob variety. "They're sort of a deadbolt," said Phillips, adding that the locks are handy if you have children, since you don't have to worry about lost keys.

    Phillips, who has become a specialist in Miller/Gougler locks, gets many calls to repair the locks or change their combinations. Service calls for changes in the combi-nation usually come from new tenants or widows, he says. Combination changes are not difficult to make.

    Phillips scrounges parts wherever he can. He recently found a combination controlling insert in a hardware store, and he bought a complete lock from an area woman who took a dislike to the fussy old dial on her front door.

    Passing of these locks is another example of the demise of long revered products not available in today's technolog-ically sophisticated world. The Miller lock certainly was such a product. I know; I've been using one for years.

source: Portage Pathways by Loris Troyer
After retiring as editor and executive editor of the
Record Courier, Loris wrote a weekly historical column
entitled Portage Pathways. The Miller Lock article
was first published on February 5, 1983.

…available at Kent Free Library


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