A Brief History Of Locks

From the earliest days humanity walked the earth, we’ve wanted to keep things safe. What started as hiding our belongings in caves and guarding them with snarls and clubs turned into tying elaborate knots around crates, and then finally using locks and keys. But how did we develop such an intricate system to keep things safe? What was our journey to creating the lock, and when did we first think of it?

The Very First Lock

The earliest version of a lock that’s been discovered was found in the ruins of Nineveh, the capital of ancient Assyria.  It was very rough, but it was the basis for the Egyptian wooden pin lock. This rudimentary lock consisted of a bolt, door fixture or attachment, and key. When the key was inserted, pins within the fixture were lifted out of drilled holes within the bolt, allowing it to move. When the key was removed, the pins fell part-way into the bolt, preventing movement and keeping it closed.

The Birth Of Mechanical Locks

Now if you want to look at mechanical locks, we need to go back about 6 thousands years to Ancient Egypt. Yes, it really was that long ago! That’s where the first locksmiths created a simple but effective pin tumbler lock, made entirely from wood using the example of those Assyrian locks. It was made of wooden posts that were affixed to the door and a horizontal bolt that slid into the post. The bolt had a set of openings that were filled with pins and used specially designed large, heavy wooden keys with pegs matched up with the holes and pins in the lock. These keys looked a bit like modern toothbrushes, and when put into the opening and lifted would allow the security bolt to be moved. Lock designs similar to these were also found in Ancient Greece, which is where the next lock innovation began

Rome Built Locks

The Romans were known for being pioneers, changing the course of history in all sorts of ways. One of those was their approach to security. Building on the Greek designs for locks, the Romans were the first to introduce metal to the construction of locks, making them stronger and better able to protect valuables. They also decided that Greek locks were too big and heavy, and so they made them and their keys smaller and easier to keep close by. In fact, many Romans wore their keys as jewellery as a sign of their wealth. As inventors kept tinkering, they were able to develop wards, which made sure that only the correct key with the correct shape of projections can push the matching pins, before the lock could rotate the throw the bolt.

For a very long time, that’s where locks stayed.

Twice As Good

It wasn’t until 1788 that the next major advancement in locksmithing came about, this time from just one man – Robert Barron. Robert, with the help of the many technological advancements that had been made in the centuries since the Romans, was able to create the first ever double-acting tumbler level lock. This system worked because it required the lever to be lifted to a certain height by having a slot cut into the lever. This meant that if you lifted the lever too far, or not far enough, the result was the same – a locked door. This basic idea is what many locks today are still based on. In 1784 a mechanic called Joseph Bramah improved this lock even further, designing a lock that was so secure it remained unpickable for 67 years.

Chubb Changes It All

Fast forward to 1818, and Jerimiah Chubb walked onto the scene with his new invention, the Chubb detector lock. His new kind of lock was a lever lock containing a re-locker, which would jam up the lock if someone unauthorised tried to gain access. The only way to gain access to one of his locks was to insert the original key. We’re willing to bet you will be able to find a Chubb lock or two still in your home today!

The Competition

The last really memorable development in locking technology came at the hands of Linus Yale, who would go on to found Yale locks with his son. In 1848, he developed the first pin tumbler lock. These locks use pins of different lengths to stop the lock opening unless the correct key is used. A few years later his son built on this design, inventing and patenting a smaller, flat key with serrated edges to go with the varying pin lengths within the lock, making each lock even more unique.

Today every lock in your home is the result of all that history. Those inventors built the foundation of the security industry, and thanks to them we know how to keep you and your belongings safe. And because we know all of that, the team at My Locks can help you with any lock problem you may encounter! So if you find yourself locked out in your socks, or you just have a question about locks, you know exactly who to call.