Green’s Dictionary of Slang

pete n.1

[peter n.3 (2)/peter n.5 (2)]

1. (also pete-box) a safe.

[US]G. Bronson-Howard Enemy to Society 73: A man equipped with burglar’s tools would be kneeling behind the safe and drilling it open; those ‘petes’—as cracksmen call them—in people’s houses are generally very easy to open silently.
[US]Jackson & Hellyer Vocab. Criminal Sl.
[Can] ‘Thieves’ Sl.’ Toronto Star 19 Jan. 2/5: SAFE Pete.
[US]J. Callahan Man’s Grim Justice 46: Then he told me what kind of a safe it was [...] ‘It’s a front-lock pete.’.
[UK](con. 1929) R.E. Burns I Am a Fugitive 162: He received life in Michigan when a copper was bumped off during a pete job.
[US]‘Goat’ Laven Rough Stuff 90: If the inside keyster of the pete was locked, then I had the jemmy to burst it open with.
[US]D. Runyon ‘Butch Minds the Baby’ in Runyon on Broadway (1954) 344: Nobody opens pete boxes for a living any more [...] this is a very soft pete. It is old-fashioned, and you can open it with a toothpick.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
[US]C. Hamilton Men of the Und. 81: They cracked a small pete.
[Can]R. Caron Go-Boy! 109: I came across a four-hundred pound safe inside a large cabinet. This was the first pete I had encountered.

2. (US) nitroglycerine, used to open safes.

[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).

3. see pete-man

In compounds

pete-box (n.)

see sense 1 above.

pete job (n.)

safe breaking.

[US]D. Runyon ‘The Informal Execution of Soupbone Pew’ in From First to Last (1954) 67: I’m careful about them pete jobs, so’s not to blow up no harmless persons.
[US]J. Callahan Man’s Grim Justice 95: One shot ‘pete jobs’ were in order after the Blackstone fiasco.
pete-man (n.) (also pete)

(US Und.) a safebreaker.

[US]G. Bronson-Howard Enemy to Society 105: Why, you’ve already caught four ‘pete-men’ who attempted to drill the safe, caught ’em redhanded—the best ‘petes’ in the country.
[US]St Louis Post-Despatch (MO) 16 Jan. 25/1: Where do you get off to bawl me out, you imitation pete (peterman, safe blower).
[US]F. Williams Hop-Heads 17: I knew them to be yeggs, one of them a ‘pete man’ (safe blower) of almost national fame.
[UK]R.E. Burns (con. 1929) I Am a Fugitive 161: Hard-boiled Jack Martin, killer, heist guy, pete man and jail breaker extraordinary.
E. Weir Criminology 47: If the ‘pete-man’ is arrested and must go to trial, he maneuvers to be indicted in accordance with this statute.
[US]H. Wilson ‘I Was King of the Safecrackers’ in Hamilton Men of the Und. 138: No peteman would frazzle his nerves trying to assault such forts.
[US]C. Hamilton Men of the Und. ix: A ‘pete-man’ [...] may devote months of patient study to mastering the mechanics of safe construction.
[US]W. Burroughs Naked Lunch (1968) 24: Old Pete men suck the black smoke in the Chink laundry back room.
W. Stevenson A Man Called Intrepid (1979) 369: The Cracker was a peteman, a safecracker with an encyclopedic knowledge of locks.
[US]W. Diehl Hooligans (2003) 23: The woman was killed by a bomb. Whoever scratched the other two knew what he, or they, were doing. It looks like a couple of Petes to me.
L. Morrell Steel Storage 114: A peteman is a yegg. A guy who blows safes.
[US]A. Steinberg Running the Books 242: I used to be a peteman. That’s the old name for guys who hit up safes.

In phrases

sniff a pete (v.)

(US Und.) to crack a safe with explosives.

[US]Spokane Press (WA) 22 Sept. 7/3: ‘Sniffing a pete’ [...] means forcing a safe with the aid of explosives.