After WWII, alarm equipment was hard to get. Shortages of wire, batteries, bells, etc. threatened the survival of the smaller alarm companies.
Ben Call, owner of Call’s Police Signal Corp. in Boston, decided to form his own manufacturing company named Alarm Products & Supplies. He bought dies to make bells and contacts and a “whole ton of wire.” He now had plenty of parts for his alarm company, but needed customers to support his manufacturing company.
In 1947, Call decided that the alarm industry needed a trade association. It could create a code of ethics to discourage unethical business practices. It could also buy his failing manufacturing company. This would help all the alarm companies find equipment at lower prices.
Call, with an assistant, drove across the country to meet with other owners in person. At first he found little interest in his idea, but in Cleveland, Morris Weinstock of Morse Signal Devices liked the idea. Weinstock agreed to pay half of Call’s expenses if he failed. The new association would pay if he succeeded. After meetings with alarm dealers in Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis, Philadelphia and New York produced mixed results, Call returned home. He then sent letters inviting 165 independent dealers to join in an association: 20 said yes.
The first convention was held in February 1948, at the Sherman Hotel in Chicago. It was hosted by Frank Poulson and Gus Schwartz of Certified Burglar Alarm Systems. Conceived as a five-day, friendly affair, it turned into an eleven-day marathon meeting of suspicious strangers. It was the first time the owners of many firms learned of each other’s existence! Many harbored suspicions that others would steal their trade secrets and perhaps their subscribers. “I never attended a meeting with more antagonism,” said Joe Cunningham of Cunningham Security Systems, of Schaumberg, IL.
Many of the dealers needed reliable suppliers but were wary of Call’s scheme of having the association buy his Alarm Product Devices Company (Name Change?). Call suspected that some of the comanies planned to start their own manufacturing firms. Others, like Potter Electric of St. Louis, were already manufacturing alarm devices and feared competition from a trade association. At one point Call even offered to sell his tools and dies for one dollar. This only made others more skeptical and suspicious.
The association did not buy Call’s company but decided to coordinate bulk purchases from suppliers and invite them to exhibit their products at association meetings. Call did sell his manfacturing company to Progress Electrical Supply Company of Brooklyn, which later became Ademco.
Despite all the suspicions, the meeting ended with the formation of the National Burglar Alarm Association (NBAA). The first members did little fire alarm work, so “fire” was not added to the name until 1950. Ben Call was elected President, Morris Weinstock, Secretary, and WW Freeman of WW Freeman Detective Agency in Pasadena, CA, was elected Treasurer. Vice Presidents were: Western Division: LL Mason of FC Mason, LA, California. Central Division: Gus W Schwartz of Certified Burglar Alarm systems, Chicago, Illinois; and Eastern Division: Edward Levy of Connecticut Protective Systems, New Haven, Connecticut.
From the founding with 20 members, the NBFAA grew to 56 members in 1951 and 71 members in 1953. Today we see the mighty oak that grew from Ben Call’s acorn.
Ben Call sold his company to 3M in 1971. He donated thousands of dollars to NBFAA projects. He died in 1989
Thanks to: A History of Alarm Security by William Greer