Better A Safe Than Sorry

Written By: Rosa  Smith

Better a Safe Than Sorry

By Rosa Smith  





From Hampton Bays I like to ride my bicycle out the old Montauk


Highway over toSouthampton.  Sometimes in the late afternoon when it is cool and bright my


husband Tony joins me and we cruise through hedge-lined streets, head


west alongDune Roadbetween the ocean and theShinnecockBay. and peer with nostalgic


curiosity up a certain long driveway catching glimpses of a once elegant


Mediterranean style villa, the distinctive orange roof tiles identifying it from the road.   We don’t


know who owns it these days, but the villa was originally built by


Tony’s maternal grandparents in the 1930’s.  It was so solid and well situated next to a


large dune that it survived the big hurricane of 1938.  World War II was getting under way


and Tony’s father was well into his career at IBM when he was invited by his


younger brother Harry, a big player in those days among theSouthamptonsocial set,  to


join him for a weekend at the Bowers place onDune   Road.   There,


Tony’s dad, McLain Bernard Smith, was to meet Jane, the daughter of the house.  They


fell very much in love and were married after a brief engagement.


Not much later, my father-in-law-to-be participated in the Pacific theater of World War


Two.  As time went on,  rising to a prestigious rank at IBM, he taught his children by example


how to succeed in business.  As you shall see, Tony’s introduction to business was a summer job


selling wall safes door-to-door on easternLong Island.



September 1945:


The young officer stepped off a plane and took a look around at the devastation that was


Tokyo.  It was September 1945.  A peace treaty had been signed by the emperor


Hirohito aboard the U.S. Missouri inTokyoBayafter the bombing ofHiroshima


andNagasaki.  Major McLain B. Smith was one of Defense Secretary McNamara’s first


logistical delegates to arrive in Japan.  On pre-war visits for IBM he had been fascinated by


Tokyo’s ubiquitous, paper-thin, light-wood-constructed


architecture, but it was all gone now.   Almost all that remained


after the allied incendiary bombings overTokyowere wall safes left standing here and there


amidst the ashes.  For the second time in a week he thought of his old friends and business


associates, Edwin Jr. and John Mosler, whose grandfather Gustave had emigrated


toCincinnati, Ohioand founded the eponymous wall safe company there in l867.  Familiar with


their reputation for strength and precision manufacture, Major Smith  had not even been that


surprised to hear that several Mosler vaults installed inHiroshima’s Mitsui Bank building prior


to WWII had miraculously survived the nuclear attack. (1)


Summer of ’63

About eighteen years later, father of four teenagers now,  Smith was contemplating  how to help his second son Tony land his first summer job.  He suggested that a job selling Mosler safes door to door “might not be so bad”  and rang up his old friends at the Mosler Safe Company in his usual efficient fashion. Soon my husband-to-be found himself driving around the                                                                    -2-

verdantSuffolkCountycountryside in his green Ford Falcon convertible, a pile of

pamphlets by his side.  He knew little about the illustrious history of the Mosler safes, and dare I say,  cared less.  No-one told him where to go or how to sell.   Listening endlessly to the Beach Boys, he cruised.   Thinking to himself  “Hey, they might want a wall safe,” he would pull over. Nonchalantly he would try to strike up a conversation with an unsuspecting store owner– “I just happened to be in the neighborhood… wonder if you need something to store your valuables in?”  If they would ask more he would say, “Well I work for the Mosler Safe Company and I wonder if you could use a small wall safe…….you know, the kind you see in the movies“  or he might just add into the silence– “You don’t want one?  Well, sorry to take up your time,” and slink back out to the safety of his car.

Although the sales acumen of the young man left something to be desired at