SJA Exclusive: From whaling to electric locks: the history of Dortronics

Man at door - history of Dortronics

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John FitzPatrick, President of Dortronics Systems and VP Sag Harbor Industries relays the story of the company, from foundation to where it is today.

Dortronics, the provider of door control solutions, has a lesser known yet storied past. One that involves Thomas Edison, a former whaling community and a vision for small industry. Though dissimilar on the surface, these factors combined to build the core values Dortronics continues to rely upon.

Today, Dortronics stands by their mission statement: “what you want, when you want it”, and after hearing the company’s origins, it’s easy to see why they choose to deliver on this promise every day.

The foundation

The story of Dortronics begins with the history of its parent company, Sag Harbor Industries. Charles Edison, son of inventor Thomas Alva Edison, started Sag Harbor industries in 1946 after serving as the Governor of New Jersey from 1941 to 1944. This time in American history came just after the Industrial Revolution wherein it was common for thousands of workers to be employed within vast factories found in large cities. These factories tended to be cavernous, loud and smokey with workers toiling in less-than-ideal conditions. It was this kind of environment that Charles Edison had hoped to change.

Edison firmly believed that smaller, localized manufacturers could be more productive than a larger one with a central location. He thought that a smaller operation could react quicker to changes and adversity than larger facilities. In one of these smaller facilities, healthful working conditions would flourish alongside other novel ideas such as work incentive patterns and profit sharing. With a smaller number of employees and moderated working pace, employees would work more eagerly with pride and efficiently than those in larger, metropolitan cities. With this clear vision in mind, Edison set his sights on the small, historic seafaring town of Sag Harbor, New York.

The setting

The town of Sag Harbor lies on the far-eastern end of Long Island. Located on both deep and sheltered water, Sag Harbor quickly became a thriving whaling village and became a Federal Port of Entry in 1789, only second in importance to New York City. From 1760 to 1850, Sag Harbor enjoyed good times due to the abundance of sperm whales available close to the Atlantic shore. However, almost as quickly as it rose, the overabundance of whalers and growing scarcity of whales led to the fall of the whaling industry in Sag Harbor. The villagers, having to resort to other means of making a living, quickly turned to industry.

It was Sag Harbor where Edison used to spend his summers as the Governor of New Jersey. His summer home was located at the corner of Main and Garden Streets, directly across the street from the Sag Harbor Whaling & Historical Museum and within walking distance to the first Sag Harbor Industries location. Here, a handful of workers, in a building no bigger than a small home, would manufacturer small electric coils to be used in automobile clocks and appliances. The work was how Edison imagined: quiet, relaxed and shared. When one worker got ahead of their work, he/she was quick to jump in to help another in an intimate facility where everyone knew everyone.  

The next steps

By 1949, business was going so well that Sag Harbor Industries needed an addition to the building – one that was much larger than the original building itself. It was also around this time when Edison began to pursue other ventures, leaving Sag Harbor Industries in the hands of partners Paul Scheerer and Stuart Miller. Scheerer eventually bought out all the shares of Sag Harbor Industries.

Scheerer had always wanted his own product line which led to the acquisition of a start-up for which he was already molding magnetic coils. Thus, Dortronics Systems, Inc., manufacturers of electric locking hardware, was acquired and became a wholly owned subsidiary of Sag Harbor Industries in 1990.

The modern era

Sag Harbor Industries continues to operate out of two manufacturing facilities today. The first, located in Sag Harbor, NY and a second located in Farmville, NC which went into operation in 1985. Dortronics Systems, Inc. operates out of the Sag Harbor Industries facility on Long Island where it continues to thrive. In Sag Harbor, Dortronics Systems and Sag Harbor Industries remain landmarks of an all but forgotten time when the village was known for its manufacturing capabilities.

The two companies are the only industrial manufacturers remaining in Sag Harbor, employing over 80 people under the same system of flexible hours originated by Edison decades ago. Today, employees can choose their ideal working hours, highlighting how times may have changed, but Sag Harbor Industries’ core philosophy has remained the same.

This core philosophy transfers to Dortronics as well. The persisting flexible manufacturing capabilities started by Edison enables Dortronics to provide speedy delivery of switches, locks, annunciators, door interlock controllers and other off-the-shelf products. These products can be further customized in virtually any shape, size or finish to meet customer requirements.

In addition to benefiting from the proven reliability and performance, customers can always count on the quality of Dortronics’ US made products – a long lasting testament to Edison and his forward-thinking business model.

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