The Rich History of the Locksmith Trade

Imagine this: An oversized wooden key on a ring around your fingers, as a display of nobility and great wealth.


What’s the story behind the locksmithing trade?


In ancient times locks were few and far between, used only by individuals with power and authority. The history of locksmithing is said to date back 4000 years ago, beginning in Egypt and Babylon. It’s believed by some that locks were used to secure items from thieves along traveling roads during ancient times. This is a myth. Locks were not a common possession.


In ancient times locks were much different than what we see and use today. Locks were oversized and made of wood, accompanied by an enormous wooden key. The wooden key was typically worn on a ring around the finger of its owner, to publically display the significance of the individual. In that time having a key meant you had items worth securing, symbolizing an abundance of wealth. With this status came great honor and importance among the people.


While older locks were extremely large and made of different materials than what is used today, they do not function so differently. The oldest lock was found in the ruins of the Assyrian empire and is believed to have been created in 704 BC. This lock functioned by way of a pin mechanism, and its key appeared like an oversized toothbrush. The key was created to push the pin inside of its lock upwards, releasing its hold. Modern keys have advanced significantly since then but still, require a similar mechanism.


Wooden locks and keys were used for centuries and were not evolved much until metal locks began appearing in Europe around 870 AD. These locks were made of iron or brass, and were seen stretching from Europe clear into China. They operated by metal keys that were twisted, pushed or screwed into the lock.


Metal locks and keys remained the same for a long time, until the days of the industrial revolution in the 18th Century. Starting in this time we see immense growth in the locksmithing profession.


A paned window into history:


  • In 1778 Robert Barron perfected the Lever Tumbler Lock. This lock required the lever (inside of the lock) to be lifted at a specific height in order to be released.
  • In 1817 there was a burglary in the Portsmouth Dockyard. In this time, the British government announced a competition, and it was won by a man named Jeremiah Chubb, who created the Chubb Detector Lock. This lock was difficult to pick but also gave an indication to its owner when someone tampered with it. Locks and keys were heavily tested by many individuals (of different abilities and social status) before a champion was announced, and the system was utilized. Jeremiah and his brother, Charles Chubb, began their own locksmithing business following the victory of Jeremiah’s success.
  • In 1848 Linus Yale perfected the double-acting pin tumbler lock. This lock was designed using a pin of different lengths, created to stop the lock from being opened without the proper key.
  • In 1861 Linus Yale invented a smaller key with serrated edges. His designed locks and keys are still used today.

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