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Locksmithing 101 | What No One Tells You About The Industry - Key Blank History (Part 1)

When it comes to key blank part numbers, have you ever wondered why in the world are there so many different key blank part numbers out there? It's a great question, especially as you go to start learning the key blank part numbers. What to stock and don't or brand this or that. It's hard to understand it all, so I am getting ready to put together a blog to give you what you need to know about key blank part numbers. And since there is so much information in history that goes over the last 100 years, I better start at 'How this all started, and why things are they the way they are today.' It's going to be a lot of fun.


After hours and hours of research, many the information comes from Aaron Fish's book, Under Lock and Key. It's a great book I ordered years ago from Aaron Fish's office up in Canada. A lot of the information that I'm going to be going over actually involves Aaron Fish and the company he founded, UNICAN. Aaron did pass away on October 1, 2020, and it's my 100% intention to show respect for him, what he did, and his legacy in this industry. So, with all that said, let's get started and have some fun. 

In 1880, a company by the name of Keil was formed in New York, shortly after in 1888, Lockwood was established in Connecticut.


And a couple of decades, in 1914 Taylor Lock company was established in Philadelphia. Things start to get interesting in 1917, a company established in Massachusetts, the Independent Lock Company. The initials are going to give us Ilco.

Then in 1931, Ilco acquires Keil & Lockwood, and in 1933, Dominion lock company was established in Canada. As we fast forward a few decades to 1964, that is when Aaron Fish established Unican. As a locksmith, Aaron Fish started up in Canada as a young man and then later became a locksmithing distributor in Canada shortly after when he established Unican.

Fun fact: Aaron Fish receives an honorary degree, and when he's talking to many college students, he's pushing them to get into the locksmithing and security business. Check the link in the notes below to that YouTube video.

When Aaron Fish established Unican, he was primarily looking at selling his push-button lock, and the lock's part number was CKLS 1800. CKLS stands for the Canadian Key and Lock Supply. If you take those initials, switch them around a little bit, I think you're going to like what you find. And about a decade, in 1972, Unican acquires Ilco. And shortly after that acquiring the company, he moves it to Rocky Mountain, North Carolina, where it is today.

In the early 1970s, seven manufacturers made keys in the USA - Ilco, Taylor, Curtis, Cole, Star, Jett, and ESP. If you think about it, that's a lot of key blank manufacturing in the USA.  

So in 1985, is when Unican starts acquiring a lot of key blank manufacturers. It acquires Dominion lock, a key blank manufacturer up in Canada, the real big one in Canada—followed by acquiring Taylor in 1986. In 1987, Ilco acquired Orion, and then in 1995, Unican acquires the Curtis and Cole assets. In 1997, Unican acquired Silca, a significant manufacturer in the world, especially in Europe. And shortly before Unican acquires Silca, Silca had purchased Star here in the States. And then in 2001, Unican sells to Kaba. So essentially, when Aaron Fish had gotten to the manufacturing business in 1964, there were about seven manufacturers of keys. By the time he was done in 2001, only three left, which leads us to today, the three manufacturers of key blanks in the USA today, Ilco, Jett, and ESP. 


When Aaron Fish is acquiring all these companies, especially in the European market, he noted that Spain was more of a weak spot. It is because that is where JMA has its headquarters is, and Aaron Fish describes JMA as a fast-growing, well-managed company in his book. At that time, they were no competition in the USA or the Canadian market. However, years later, in 2005, JMA came to America to start competing.

Another exciting piece of information, Silca is a company owned by the Bianchi family, and shortly after the acquisition in 2001, the Bianchi family started the Keyline group. So the Keyline is, back in the USA, competing.



That rich history leads us to today. We have Ilco, Jett, and ESP. While on the global scale, we have JMA making key blanks out of places and selling them in the USA, same with Keyline. So I hope you found all of this information not only helpful but entertaining, and I hope that shed some light on it. These random manufacturers that you see and different weird key blank part numbers existed because there are different companies that existed one time and have been bought primarily by Ilco.

I'd love to know what you think about all this information. Did you learn anything? Do you have anything that you could add? I would love to learn in the comments below. Thank you, and we'll see you next time!

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