If you watch a lot of Bloomberg Television (apologies to my wife), you no doubt have seen the name Mine Safety Appliances (AMEX:MSA) on the American Stock Exchange screen crawl. One of the neat things about writing for The Motley Fool is learning about companies like this one that I might not otherwise check out. The first thing I learned is that this company is Tom Gardner's September 2003 recommendation for the Fool's small-cap newsletter, Hidden Gems.

Mine Safety's products make just about every type of dangerous work safer. It makes fall-protection equipment, respirators, goggles, gas-detection devices, medical products, and clothing for fighting structure fires, and that's just the start. The products are vital tools for workers in fields requiring such equipment.

Turns out the company is quite innovative. It boasts the largest research and development budget in the industry. One catalyst for its growth has been contracts with the Army. Over the last few months, Mine Safety has been awarded several contracts worth $78 million for a new type of helmet for 230,000 soldiers.

News like that helps account for a phenomenal 103% rise in the stock price over the last year. As you might expect after such a big lift in price, some of the valuation metrics are not great, but the numbers do compare favorably to the group. Mine Safety trades at 3.5 times book, 1.5 times sales, and 16 times next year's earnings. Its operating margins of 11.2% are more than twice the industry average. What surprised me the most is that there have been 13 dividend increases since 1990, and Mine Safety currently yields 1.3%.

It all sounds good, so what could go wrong? From a market standpoint, any stock that goes up 100% in one year could give some of that gain back. From an execution standpoint, products that protect people occasionally don't work. That could lead to liability problems. This is not to say this is a problem, but think about what the company makes and the fact that new ideas are a priority.

The bottom line is that I've learned that Mine Safety makes products that are in demand. It also devotes time, effort, and money to innovation. All those dividend increases show management has a high regard for shareholders. Put all this together and it sounds like an ongoing recipe for long-term success.

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Fool contributor Roger Nusbaum is an investment manager and wildland firefighter in Prescott, Ariz. At press time, neither he nor his clients owned any Mine Safety shares.