In 2011, Still Made In New Haven

Allan Appel PhotoWhen Sargent Manufacturing Company started making cowbells and other metal products in New Haven in 1864, odds are no Vietnamese-born workers like Son Kim Huyn were on the assembly line. In 2011 the now-international company has evolved with the times.

And they’re hiring.

The company has been looking for electrical and electrical-mechanical engineers at its New Haven plant.

The company has kept manufacturing jobs in New Haven by keeping up with technology. Today’s Sargent locks are online, offline, and wireless electronic thingamajigs, light years away from old skeleton keys that dealt with one lock at a time.

In 2010 this Sargent product won a coveted “Good Design” award sponsored by the Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and the European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.


If you’re clinging to a walker or you’re a nurse with your hands and arms full or you’re a waiter with a tray of 12 puddings, you can use your hip or elbow to click open the door with this paddle-shaped sleek new lever handle.

Sargent’s gave up those cowbells and other non-lock or door hardware products in the 1980s. At a time when other stories city manufacturers were long gone or on their way out of town, the company successfully concentrated on bored and mortise locks, door closers and associated hardware, cylinders, and increasingly high-tech electronic access control devices.

The focus caught the attention of the Swedish lock, cylinder, and door hardware conglomerate Assa Abloy. Assa Abloy purchased Sargent in 1996.

Currently 600 people, like Huyn, work for Sargent and another 400 or so work for Assa Abloy in a plant on Sargent Drive. They inhabit the 375,000 square foot plant that also serves as the headquarters for Assa Abloy’s division that market to the Americas, both north and south.

Assa Abloy, which trades on the Swedish stock exchange, employs 29,000 people across 80 countries.

The Sargent/Assa Abloy building by the harbor gleams with a lab developing new products as well as a manufacturing floor where people like Huyn make, assemble, and ship things around the world. The floor is immense; folks on bicycles bearing baskets of materials glide silently by.

The plant also contains a display area of its newest products like hurricane- and tornado-resistant doors and door surfaces with silver ions that inhibit microbes from adhering, perfect for hospitals and schools.

Given equal pride of place are displays of those cowbells, and even older products, such as keys produced by Sargent when it formed back in the early 1800s before moving to New Haven.

From Lincoln’s Casket to Wifi

Or publications such as this issue of “Keyways.” The June 1945 booklet for workers was published during the frenetic and gender-bending World War II era, when 40 percent of the company’s workforce were women.

One also learns that shortly after Sargent’s move to New Haven in 1864, the already 50-year old company was given the honor of manufacturing the hinges for Abraham Lincoln’s coffin.

A century later, after residing on the edge of the harbor, the factory moved to the other side of the eponymous Sargent Drive. The new address—100 Sargent—marked the centennial.

According to Director of Corporate Communications and Public Relations Marna Wilber, Assa Abloy wanted local companies like Sargent to maintain their identity and even deepen local roots.

In 2007 Assa Abloy became the sponsor for Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future, the globe-trotting centennial exhibition of the Finnish architect/designer behind JFK’s Pan Am building and Ingalls Rink.

Wilber said that through her research for sponsorship of that exhibition, she learned of the Good Design awards, which Saarinen himself had been instrumental in founding 50 years ago.

The company had never applied for such awards, but were successful with two products in 2009. In 2010, in addition to the paddle lever, this “roseless trim” won. The rose is the large-ish circle of metal that covers the area where the lever meets the lock.

Sargent’s design slimmed down the rose so that it looks continuous with the lever. It’s a more pleasing result especially to the eye of an architect, who might decide to buy 500 of these for a project, Wilber suggested.

“We’re consciously making a more aesthetic ‘play’ with our products,” Wilber said.

She added that architects increasingly require it and that the market in all industries is moving toward an aesthetic in items even as humble and unnoticed as door closers, as long as they are attractive without sacrificing functionality.

Sargent’s customers are commercial hardware distributors around the country. Locally its products are or will be at the new 360 State Street apartment tower and the new Gateway Community College rising downtown.

“Quinnipiac University is a huge user” of an integrated locking system where a single card opens a student’s dorm rooms, the library, the cafeteria, Wilber said.

This lock responds to touch, like an IPad. The first non-raised or beveled of its kind, it is a new Sargent product.

“We’re looking for electrical and electrical-mechanical engineers,” she said.

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posted by: zulu143 on February 22, 2011  1:03pm

As a major manufacturing presence in the Greater New Haven area, I’ve often wondered why Sargent/Assa Abloy hasn’t had more civic involvement in New Haven’s cultural life.

I almost never see their name attached to any events -A&I, Tennis Tourney, Shubert events, etc. It’s usually part of a corporations mission statement to contribute to the community in which they do business and where their employees reside.

posted by: J on February 22, 2011  2:05pm

zulu143….I wouldn’t rock the boat. I’m surprise they are still here….Let’s be thankful just for that.

posted by: Marna Wilber on February 22, 2011  2:51pm

Good point zulu143. We have not been very vocal about our local community support but are indeed very active and loyal supporting many area programs and events. We believe local businesses should support each other. Some of our ongoing local support goes to: Long Wharf Theatre, Shubert, Yale Children’s Hospital, Eli Whitney Museum, various local charities, Yale School of Architecture exhibitions like the current one – Kevin Roche: Architecture as Environment and many more. We do these things because we feel it is the right thing to do; it’s less about the publicity for us.

posted by: Irish Mike on February 22, 2011  3:03pm

I need more cowbell.