A New Life, A New Beginning
In 1891, the Rifkin family fled the religious persecution in Czarist Russia to begin a new life in the United States. They were processed for immigration through Castle Garden, and following a brief stay on New York’s Lower East Side, they settled in the community of White Haven in northeastern Pennsylvania. Abraham and Anna (Heller) Rifkin brought with them their six children, the oldest 11 years old, the youngest six months.
In White Haven, they joined the families of Anna’s brother and sister (the Hellers and Friedlands). They began to work as farmers, although they had little experience and conditions were poor for farming. Meeting with little success, the families searched for another way to earn their income. Soon, this enterprising group discovered that there was a need for work clothing in their small town. Using heavy-duty denim materials, the group cut and sewed work clothing which they sold to farmers and other workers in the area.
Searching for more customers, Abraham Rifkin made the 18-mile journey from White Haven to the city of Wilkes-Barre. There, the coal mining industry was thriving. The miners liked the quality of the work clothing that Abraham had to show. The family realized very quickly that the city of Wilkes-Barre would be a much better location for their work clothing business. In 1892 the Rifkins, Hellers and Friedlands moved to Wilkes-Barre. They manufactured work clothing and at the same time added a variety of dry goods items to their line.
They began to operate as wholesalers, selling dry goods as well as the work clothing line to the various retail establishments which were springing up throughout the greater Wilkes-Barre area. Later that same year, in a rented building on the corner of South Welles and East Northampton Streets in Wilkes-Barre, the firm of A. Rifkin & Co. was established. It partnered Abraham Rifkin and his brothers-in-law, Sol Heller and Barney Friedland (who later left the company and returned to New York), in the selling of wholesale dry goods and the work clothing which they continued to manufacture.
Business Is Growing
In 1903, after 11 years of hard work, the business had developed to a size which permitted Abraham Rifkin and Sol Heller to purchase a three-story brick building, 40 feet wide and 120 feet deep, at 39 East Northampton Street in Wilkes-Barre. At this point, A. Rifkin & Co. became a major part of the wholesale business of the area. It grew and prospered, with the dry goods portion of the business being conducted on the first and second floor of the building and the manufacturing of overalls and other work clothing on the third.
After nearly twenty years, the partnership of Abraham Rifkin and Sol Heller was dissolved in 1911.
Rifkin-Alls, Work Clothing Take Center Stage
David (Dave), Jacob (Jack) and William (Will), three sons of Abraham Rifkin, joined their father in the business until November of 1922, when Abraham Rifkin passed away at age 67.
In 1922, Jack Rifkin received a patent for a special manufacturing design for the work garment known as a “cover- all.” In this early era of auto manufacturing, cars required a great deal of “side of the road” maintenance during their journeys. Auto owners regularly carried coveralls to protect their clothing during these maintenance stops. The Rifkin garments were made with a special shoulder opening which made it considerably easier to put on or remove the garment. This special feature quickly became very popular, and the “Rifkin-All” as the garment was called, was established as a trademark well-known throughout northeastern Pennsylvania.
The company incorporated a new style embroidery machine into the manufacturing operation during this era. This “state-of-the-art” technology allowed A. Rifkin & Co. to apply a special identifying name or design to the work clothing which the company made. It had the effect of making the “Rifkin-All” into a uniform for the workers. These bright embroidered designs were available in many colors and sizes and were permanent for the life of the garment. This was an important feature to many of the top companies who were customers and prospective customers for work clothing.
By 1926, the sales emphasis had shifted so strongly to the work clothing line that Will, Dave and Jack decided to give up the dry goods portion of the business. At that time each of the brothers took on responsibility for a specialized area of the business, with Dave in charge of sales, Will taking on the office and Jack in charge of the factory.
They developed a strong customer base as they built the work clothing business. Soon they were selling to many of the major food companies, gasoline service-station companies and chemical companies within a 300-mile area, including H.J. Heinz Co., Campbells Soup Co., Hershey Ice Cream, Breyer’s Ice Cream, Gulf, Sunoco, Amoco, and DuPont. They worked hard and maintained this business even during the depression years of the 1930’s.
Bank Bags & Arcolock Patent
The “Bank Holiday” declared by President Franklin Roosevelt, when all banks were closed to check their financial stability, created a special need for banks. In 1933, the Wyoming National Bank of Wilkes-Barre asked Will Rifkin if they could buy some zipper bags to satisfy this special need. Local merchants felt their money would be best protected inside these closed banks, and the banks needed a container to package these “night deposits.” In answer to this request, A. Rifkin & Co. manufactured a zipper bag, secured with a padlock, which was the accepted standard for locking bags at the time.
This order, however, served as inspiration for Jack Rifkin who went to work to develop a new type of zipper locking device which became known as the Arcolock. Later in 1933, Jack applied for a patent for this innovative concept. The Rifkin brothers then took the lock design to Yale and Towne Manufacturing Company, America’s leading lock manufacturer of that time, where together they developed the first model of the Arcolock.
In 1934, the patent was issued for the Arcolock. At the same time, Dave started to make sales calls on the banks in the northeastern states during his trips to service the company’s work clothing accounts. The brothers were thrilled with the early small orders and pleasantly surprised as the quantities continued to increase. Dave expanded his sales efforts until by 1939 he, personally, was calling on the banks in 32 states.
Meanwhile, Jack developed the factory facilities and enlarged the line. As Dave explored the market and opened new accounts for the Rifkin Safety Sac with built-in Arcolock, the Rifkin brothers began to investigate the many other products which they could make which could also be sold to banks, beginning with zipper and drawstring coin bags and extending to courier bags and many other specialized products.
During the World War II years of 1941 to 1945, A. Rifkin & Co. shifted their focus away from bank bags and concentrated on making various types of uniforms for their industrial clients, particularly those involved with wartime production efforts.
With the end of World War II, attention to the banking industry resumed. Major improvements were made to the Arcolock and in 1947, the “Deluxe Arcolock” was introduced. The “Deluxe” used a six-pin tumbler mechanism which was a substantial security improvement.
During the early post-war years, the emphasis of the company was on building a sales organization to increase its customer base. An advertising program which included direct mail and magazine ads was begun. In 1948, Arnold Rifkin, son of Dave Rifkin, joined the sales organization.
The work clothing that had been so important through the years up to 1945 was de-emphasized.
Toward the end of the 1950’s the company made the last of the garments for which it had become well-known. Will Rifkin, the oldest brother, retired from the company in 1951; Jack Rifkin retired to Florida in 1957, and David Rifkin became company president.
A. Rifkin Co. Incorporated
In August 1965, the organization was incorporated and the name was changed to A. Rifkin Co.
By 1965, it was evident that the company had outgrown the 19,000 square foot building in downtown Wilkes-Barre, and began looking for new facilities in the area. Finding nothing suitable, in 1966 they purchased five-acre parcel of land on the Sans Souci Parkway, and a new factory was built. During Christmas vacation of 1967, eighty truckloads of machinery, material and other supplies were moved into the new building. Manufacturing commenced on January 2, 1968. This was the first move for the company since 1903 when the Northampton Street building was purchased.
The new building was a one-story, 27,000 square foot building with truck docks and fully equipped areas for the different departments now required by a rapidly expanding business. At this time, the company had 11 sales representatives and 93 employees.
In July 1968, David Rifkin passed away and was succeeded by his son Arnold as president of the company.
As the business developed, so too did the company’s demand for locks. In 1969 It became obvious that a new source was needed for the manufacture of the Rifkin Arcolock. A. Rifkin Co. was now ready to radically improve the lock beyond what had been available through their Standard and Deluxe models.
The new lock was to be a seven-pin tumbler lock, which could provide increased security and a greater number of combinations. Together, Rifkin and their new lock manufacturer produced an entirely new key design, so that Rifkin could offer a unique key, different from anything that had been on the market previously. An entirely new, proprietary, master key system was developed. Now Rifkin could offer their customers Master Key Series that were exclusive, because they were not available from any other source.
In 1970, the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority of New York City asked Rifkin to provide a special level of security for their new toll collection installation. They agreed to field test the new lock during a nine-month observation period. The new lock, called the Super Arcolock-7, was fine-tuned for high security and ease of use, and finally pronounced satisfactory.
Business continued to grow, and in 1973 the company opened a 10,000 square foot branch factory in the neighboring town of Nanticoke, where 70 people were employed. At the Sans Souci location there were two more expansion periods in 1975 and 1981 which brought the total area of that facility to 69,000 square feet, including office, factory and warehouse space. With the expansion, the satellite operation in Nanticoke was no longer necessary. It was closed and its equipment and personnel moved into the Sans Souci facility in 1983. During this expansion, in 1976, Arnold’s son, Michael Rifkin, joined the company, making him the 4th generation of Rifkins to work in the business. And in 1981, Arnold’s son-in-law, Paul Lantz, also joined the company in the Finance Department.
Approximately 15 Rifkin employees work in the office area where accounting operations have been computerized since 1974. The comprehensive computer system set up in 1984 contains full details of customer orders. These records can be accessed quickly by customer service personnel and all other departments at 50 terminals throughout the organization. Earlier customer records, going back to 1935 are archived. Customer service personnel use these records to answer phone inquiries and research order history. Orders are entered and checked to be sure that details of the order are complete and accurate. Order information travels next to the production control office which releases the order to various departments of the factory as scheduled to produce the style ordered.
Celebrating Over a Century of Manufacturing in America
In 1992, A. Rifkin Co. celebrated 100 years of manufacturing in the United States.
“Our trip from 1892 to this, our 100th anniversary, has been an interesting and eventful one. I look back with respect and admiration at the accomplishment of my grandparents, father and uncles in starting the company. Having built on the foundation that they provided, we can certainly view our achievements to date with pride and satisfaction. We now look forward with confidence and enthusiasm, ready to meet the challenges that we will face in our second century of business.” -Arnold Rifkin, 1992
Four years later in 1996, after 48 years with the company and 28 years as President, Arnold turned over the day-to-day responsibilities of running the company to his son, Michael Rifkin, and son-in-law, Paul Lantz. Arnold became Chairman and focused more on special projects including product development.
In 1998, Michael left to run an investment partnership, and Paul became the President of A. Rifkin Co.
Keeping up with the latest developments and technology has always been a very important goal of the company. A tour of the A. Rifkin Co. facility today would show how successful they have been in meeting that goal. A. Rifkin Co. patented another security feature for bags in 2003 known as Keyless Security. This closure system uses a chamber compartment and uniquely numbered, single-use seals to ensure tamper-evident protection without having to keep track of and manage keys.
Building Toward the Future
At Rifkin, we seek to improve our sustainability efforts, and in 2011, we installed solar panels on the roof of our facility. We are as paper free as possible and work to find ways to conserve on materials.
96% of Rifkin’s production is made to order, most orders start in the Cutting Department. Because Rifkin makes many styles, uses a wide variety of materials, and accepts very small as well as very large orders, a variety of cutting techniques must be employed. These range from single units cut by shears, to fabric running through high speed automatic units, computerized to prepare bundle sized units in preset quantities. Many orders of popular sizes are die cut by huge hydraulic presses which act like giant cookie cutters on stacks of material.
Rifkin offers personalization in the form of silk screen imprints and embroidery. If the order requires a new imprint or embroidery file, the information from the customer is sent to Rifkin’s Art Department where computerized drawing programs are used to prepare the type or design requested by the customer. Some customers request imprints which include only their name and address; others call for pictures of buildings, logos and special typestyles.
When the Print Department receives the finished artwork, they prepare a silk-screen stencil, print the bags received from cutting, and send the order to the department where it will be sewn.
The Rifkin Embroidery Department uses computer-directed sewing machines which embroider up to 12 bags at time. A different type of machine is used to embroider Sac identification numbers. This machine applies a different number to each bag, according to the customer’s request, making each bag unique. The Embroidery Department can also provide attractive embroidered logos.
Zipper coin bags (without locks) occupy a large part of the Rifkin manufacturing area. The popular Long Zipper Bag and Trans-Sac, reusable mailing envelope, are currently being made by teams of workers known as modular production groups. This system increases Rifkin’s ability to accommodate “rush” delivery requests and hold to projected delivery dates.
Originally, the varied steps required to make the Rifkin Safety Sac utilized basic sewing machines. Over the years, the procedure has changed greatly, being refined and improved by the introduction of specially designed equipment.
Today, Rifkin Safety Sacs are also being manufactured by teams. When a Safety Sac team receives the embroidered or imprinted pieces of material, they move them from one operation to another, sewing the lock cover, sewing the zipper, sewing the side and bottom seams, and installing the Arcolock.
As the varied products are completed, they are examined, bundled, labeled and sent to the Shipping Department. There the order is packed in shipping containers and sent on its way to the customer.
In 2013, A. Rifkin Co. welcomed its fifth generation to the company when Paul’s daughter Darcy Lantz Buck joined the company in the Marketing Department.
In 2017, A. Rifkin Co. celebrated 125 years of manufacturing in America.
One year later in 2018, after 22 years as President, Paul turned over the reigns to his daughter, Darcy. Paul will remain with the company as Chief Operating Officer and focus more on the manufacturing department and special projects.
A. Rifkin Co. employs approximately 70 people in its factory, office and warehouse. Located throughout the United States and Puerto Rico and supported by an experienced in-house Customer Service staff, Rifkin representatives provide a full range of services. The product line today includes bags with the high security, built-in Arcolock-7, the tamper-evident Keyless Security closure system, Fire-Shield fire resistant bags, RF-Shielding bags, and a wide variety of custom-manufactured bags designed to meet the needs of banks, elections, federal government, libraries, medical facilities, schools, and many other commercial businesses throughout the world.