A brief history of locks & the role of the locksmith

24th July 2014

When you think of a locksmith you probably picture someone whose job involves repairing and installing locks, and cutting duplicate keys. However, in the past locksmiths played a fundamental part in the design, development and manufacture of both locks and keys.

This brief history will give you an insight into the locksmith's changing role, and the origins of the lock and it's development into the modern locks we have today.

History of locks and locksmiths

The first locks made entirely of wood

It is believed that the first locks were invented simultaneously by the Egyptians and the Babylonians approximately 4,000 years ago, when they wanted to safeguard their valuable belongings.

Each of the independent civilisations used primitive wooden locks which operated on a pin tumbler principle. The oldest lock of this type was found by archaeologists in the ruins of an ancient Egyptian palace near Ninevah.

The introduction of metal

In around 900 AD the first locks to be made entirely from metal were believed to have been created by English craftsmen. The metal door locks and padlocks made during this era became more intricate through time and were mainly created for noblemen with expensive belongings, and merchants who had lots of valuable goods to protect.

The ancient Romans wore their small metal keys on their fingers - both to keep track of the important keys that were used to lock up their possessions and also as a sign of wealth.

Years of innovation improves security

In the 18th century lock picking became more common, so locksmiths had to improve the security of locks and increase complexity. In 1778 Robert Barron took the first steps to improving security and patented a double-acting tumbler lock. This device was further developed in 1818 by Jeremiah Chubb, who incorporated a lock spring to catch lock pickers out.

However in 1784, Joseph Bramah had taken an entirely different route to the traditional lever lock, and patented a cylinder-based safety lock that was considered un-pickable. Bramah offered a large reward to anyone who could pick his lock but it wasn't until 50 years later that a lock picker succeeded - even then it took him a grand total of 16 days to pick it!

In 1848 Linus Yale Sr. invented the pin-tumbler lock. His design was later tweaked by his son who improved the lock using a smaller, flat key with serrated edges - the basis of the popular Yale lock and other modern pin-tumbler locks you will find today. This was a time of innovation, and one of the many significant inventions was James Sargent's combination lock design in 1857.

Mass production responds to growing demand

Many locksmiths continued to improve lock security and invent new types of locks for their clients, but demand was increasing quickly and by the 1900s most locks were being mass produced.

This meant that the practice of inventing, designing and fabricating locks became more rare, and instead the locksmiths focused on repairing locks, the fitting of locks, and key cutting.

Today's locks and the role of the locksmith

Today a large variety of locks are available in the marketplace and many are based on the lever, Bramah, Yale and combination models mentioned above. But it's also safe to say that the industry has entered the digital age, as it is becoming more and more common to come across electronic locking systems, keyless entry systems and digital safes.

The role of a locksmith today is a varied one which requires a thorough knowledge of all of the different modern and traditional locks in the market, in order to be able to give you, the customer, the best advice about how to keep your home and belongings secure.

Get in touch with an expert locksmith

Years of experience and unrivalled knowledge allow us to offer a locksmith service that is second to none. If you are in need of a locksmith in Doncaster feel free to get in touch with us today on 01302 378 067 for some friendly advice.



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