Aug 17, 2023

Lewis D. McCauley, 90, took invention of wheel lock to automobiles around the world

Lewis D. McCauley was working late one evening in 1964 at the precision machine shop he owned on Buffalo’s East Side when David Dankner, a Mercury dealer on Bailey Avenue, dropped in with a request that wound up turning his 20-man operation into a global enterprise.

Dankner said thieves had been stealing tires from the cars in his lot, and his service manager wanted to stop them with some kind of wheel lock.

A few days later, Mr. McCauley and his engineers came up with one – a simple shiny chrome-plated cylindrical lug nut that locked the wheel to the axle and could only be removed with a special key.

“The dealer came back two months later,” Mr. McCauley told Buffalo News business reporter James T. Madore in 1993, “and told me the wheel locks had stopped the thieves.”

The company’s breakthrough came in the mid-1970s, when it designed a wheel cover lock for the Cadillac Seville.

“With Cadillac, we went from the two-bit club to the million-dollar club,” Mr. McCauley told Madore.

Chrysler, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Mercedes-Benz followed. The company received Ford’s coveted Total Quality Excellence Award.

Mr. McCauley, who continued to be active in the business until three years ago, died Aug. 8 in his Orchard Park home after a short illness. He was 90.

Born in Buffalo, the younger of two boys, Lewis Durham McCauley was the son of Herbert J. McCauley, who owned McCauley Metal Works, a company that made stamped metal components for bicycle manufacturers. He grew up working on his family’s farm in Eden.

He was an honor student at Nichols School, graduating in 1950, and attended Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., where he was a member of Alpha Delta Phi fraternity and was awarded the American Society of Mechanical Engineers prize.

Shortly after receiving his bachelor’s degree in engineering in 1954, he was married to Harriet Laube Knapp, the daughter of a Buffalo physician. Later that year, he was inducted into the Army and served with the Army Corps of Engineers in France.

Returning from service, he joined his father’s stamping business as a product engineer, then in 1959 founded L. D. McCauley Inc., producing precision miniature machined parts for the Navy and NASA.

When the company began making locking wheel nuts, it established a subsidiary, McGard Inc., to market them. Demand for them became so great that Mr. McCauley stopped taking job orders from outside customers.

After General Motors began adding the wheel lock as standard equipment or an option, Chrysler, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Mercedes-Benz followed.

The success of the wheel lock led the company to start a Special Products Division, which made an array of locking devices, beginning with locks for oil and gas storage tanks, meters and high-pressure valve assemblies.

It has gone on to produce locks for everything from manhole covers and fire hydrants to the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The McCauley and McGard companies moved to a new plant on California Road in Orchard Park in 1990. Branches were opened in Germany in 1994 and Japan in 1999.

The company, which has 750 employees in Orchard Park and 180 in other locations, is now led by Mr. McCauley’s sons – Durham, who is chairman of the board, and Peter, who is chief executive officer.

Snyder residents before they moved to Orchard Park in 1996, Mr. McCauley and his wife spent summers at the family cottage in Bay Beach, Ontario, where he enjoyed golf, tennis and was an avid gardener.

In addition to his wife of 69 years, survivors include two sons, Durham S. and Peter L.; a daughter, Jennifer M. Burger; six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Thursday Aug. 24 in Orchard Park Presbyterian Church, 4369 S. Buffalo St., Orchard Park. The service also will be livestreamed on the church’s Facebook page.

Email [email protected].

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