The Origin of the Humble Lock – A History of Locksmithing – Part 1

History of Locks

We all go about our routines each day turning the key numerous times, perhaps without even noticing that we are doing so! Have you ever stopped to think about the quality and the wondrous mechanics involved in this extraordinary object that many of us take for granted?  What would we do without the trusty lock and key and where did it come from?

Why Do We Need To Understand The Locks We Use Every Day?

Knowledge and understanding of the things that affect our daily lives is so valuable. In this series of posts on The History of Locksmithing I aim to shed some light on the mysteries behind the locks and keys we all use and rely upon on a daily basis. As a professional locksmith my hope is that this will empower you to make more informed decisions about your security and who is dealing with your security

Have you ever wondered;

  • How and why does my lock work?
  • Who came up with the idea of this lock?
  • How much does a locksmith need to know about the workings of a lock?
  • Why should I choose a qualified locksmith if a handyman / carpenter could fit a lock too?

The roles of a Locksmith and the locks we use have changed considerably over the centuries since the creation of the very first lock.

The Origin of the Locks We Use Today

The Very First Locks!

There is evidence of locksmithing dating back to around 4000 years ago in Ancient Egypt. At that time locks and keys were wooden and simplistic. Pins were moved by a wooden key to unlock the door bar.

Historians have found an example of such a lock in Egypt dating back to 704BC.

The Introduction of Metal Locks

In 18th Century Europe metal locks and tools were introduced and locks became much more effective and durable. This was a time when locksmiths were talented in working with shaping and filing metal to create individual locks and keys. There were many designs made by expert locksmiths that still exist in principle to this day.

Historians have found evidence of crude poured metal locks from Roman times.

The Origin of the Lever Lock (commonly known as a Chubb)

Barron First Lever lock/ Chubb Lock

The concept of the lever lock is based on the original wooden Egyptian locks. In 1778 Robert Barron invented the double acting tumbler lock. He was an English Locksmith. This type of lock involved levers falling into a slot and the levers need to be in a particular position to open the lock.This was later developed further by Jeremiah Chubb. In The History of Locksmithing – Part 2 I will go into more detail about the development of what is commonly known as the Chubb Lock. You can read more on Robert Barron here. This image of Barrons lock is courtesy of The History of Locks Museum in Bournemouth.

The Origin of the Pin Tumbler Lock (commonly known as a Yale)

The first patent for a pin tumbler lock was awarded to a physician named Abraham O. Stansbury who originated from America but lived in England.

The Origin of the High Security Lock

In 1784 Joseph Braham created the first high security (pick proof) lockin London. The lock known As “The Challenge Lock”can be seen in the London Science Museum. You can read more about the attempts to pick The Challenge Lock here.

The Origin of the Combination Lock

In 1856 Sargent & Greenleaf created the combination lock in New York. These are still seen on many safes today.

The Origin of the Padlock

In 1921 Harry E Sorof founded the Master Lock Company in the USA and produced padlocks with strong steel veneers.

England has played an instrumental part in bringing new concepts and designs to the Locksmith industry throughout history.

In The History of Locksmithing – Part 2, The Development of Locks Through Time I will discuss how these locks and the industry progressed and changed through the ages.

I hope you have found my brief locksmith history interesting. If you would like to know more about the history of locks there is a very interesting museum on the history of locks which you can visit in Bournemouth.

How can we help you?

For professional security advice and information call to speak directly to Martin, our Master Locksmith and security specialist.

 Feature image courtesy of local Barnet artist Violina Hristova

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Master Locksmiths Association

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