A Brief History of Locks and Security

Although you may not think about locks often, they play a vital role in society.

Depending on where the locks are installed, they can be used for a number of purposes. From keeping your documents and personal belongings safe, to deterring burglars and thieves, there’s no denying the impact locks have had on how we live.

But the mechanical and electrical locks we see today didn’t just fall from the sky one day. The evolution of locks from ropes to the hi-tech home security systems we see today is fascinating to say the least. Here’s how locks evolved over the years.

1. The First Lock Ever Invented:

Believe it or not, the invention of the first lock predates the birth of Christ. Since keeping our belongings safe and away from harm is a very primitive desire, our ancestors have been relying on locks and security systems since time immemorial.

Although there’s a debate over who invented the first security system, the first mention of locks (in recorded history) is found in Ancient Egypt nearly 4000 years ago! The oldest key-operated lock was retrieved from the ruins of Khorsabad in Ninevah. These locks were made from wood and, despite their simple construction, were extremely effective at fortifying defenses.

The lock utilized a large wooden casing with multiple pegs (that functioned as pins). These pins kept the bolt in place which prevented the door from opening. A small hand-sized opening was made below the bolt which allowed homeowners to unlock their locks. This simple lock is a testament to Egyptian craftsmanship and just goes to show that Ancient Egyptian culture was way ahead of the curve!

2. The Gordian Knot:

Now famous as an idiom, the Gordian Knot was once the Greeks’ answer to the Ancient Egyptian wooden locks.

Legend has it, a peasant named Gordius rode into Phrygia with nothing but his wife and an ox-cart. An oracle had previously prophesied his arrival and, keeping with the traditions of the time, the elders of the city made him king.

The newly named King of Phrygia showed his gratitude to the people of the city by tying his oxcart to appease Sabazios (analogous to Zeus in Roman culture). For many years, no one was able to untie the oxcart, which had now become the symbol of security in Greek culture. Inspired by their king, all Greeks followed suit and started using ropes as locks for their houses.

Legend has it that an oracle claimed that the person who could untie the Gordian knot would be the one to conquer Asia. News reached Alexander the Great who rushed to see the lock for himself. He tried for hours and could not untie the Gordon Knot, which had now developed legendary status in Greek culture.

Frustrated by his failure, Alexander the Great unsheathed his sword and struck the knot holding the oxcart in place. By doing so, he staked his claim on Asia, and left us with the modern English proverb; To Cut the Gordian Knot, which means using brash force to get out of a tricky situation.

3. Industrial Revolution and Modern Locks:

The Industrial Revolution in the 18th century had a seismic impact on modern society. This milestone in human history also resulted in huge changes to locks and security system. Here’s how locks were transformed in the 18th and 19th century.

1778 – Robert Barron:

Concerned about the safety of his tools, English locksmith Robert Barron developed the first double-acting tumbler lock. This lock used multiple levers to stop the movement of the bolt which enhanced security and gave homeowners some peace of mind.

1784 – Joseph Bramah:

Although Robert Barron’s effective double-acting lock increased security, it soon developed an unwanted reputation for being very able to pick. As robberies increased, Joseph Bramah patented the world’s first “unpick-able” lock.

Confident in his design, the British inventor offered a 200-guineas reward to anyone who could pick it. Many tried but no one was able to find a way past Bramah’s ingenious design. The design stood for nearly 67 years as the pinnacle of security before it was replaced by the modern pin tumbler lock.

1848 – Linus Yale Sr.:

The problem with Bramah’s design was that it was a bit too complicated. Through some really clever marketing, Linus Yale Sr. sold thousands of expensive, handmade locks that simplified Joseph Bramah’s design without compromising on safety. These new locks are now commonly referred to as pin tumbler locks, and are much more secure than Joseph Bramah’s design.

1857 – James Sargent:

James Sargent broke away from the industry norm of using keyed locks. The American Locksmith invented the world’s 1st Combination Lock that only unlocked when people entered the right combination.

What made this such an impressive invention is the fact that people could change the combination to their locks. This came in handy when the combination to the lock was compromised.

1862 – Linus Yale Jr.

Continuing in his father’s footprints, Linus Yale Jr. made his fortune selling the new and improved “Yale” lock. This lock was inspired by his father’s design and the aforementioned combination lock. The Yale lock was so popular and effective at its job that it’s still being sold today and is commonly used to secure public lockers.

1916 – Samuel Segal:

Former New York City policeman, Samuel Segal is credited for coming up with the design for the world’s first jimmy-proof lock. This simple added to home security and made commercial buildings and houses much safer than ever before.

1924 – Harry Soref:

The last ‘modern’ lock was invented by Harry Soref in 1924. This trailblazer miniaturized security system used by bank vaults and developed the world’s first padlock. His design was so effective that it was used in World War I to protect unauthorized personnel from entering tanks!

4. The Future of Locks and Home Security:

In the past fifty years, home security has increased at an exponential rate. Nowadays, we have surveillance cameras, electrical locks, and smart locks with a near negligible false positive rate. Furthermore, the rise of bio-metric security has further enhanced security and made things much safer for people across the globe.

Today, we have feats of modern engineering like heat sensing cameras that only activate when a person walks in their extended infrared fields. These cameras can save an organization thousands of dollars by making monitoring easier. What makes them so effective is the fact that they offer savings without compromising on security!

Furthermore, some buildings these days use defensive measures like fingerprint scanners and iris scanners to guarantee the safety of their employees. Inventions like smart scanners and electrical locks have enhanced security and made things much safer for people everywhere.

Given the current political climate, it’s safe to say that we will continue to come up with more ingenious ways to beef up security. If you want to insure the safety of your loved ones or your employees, why not get reinforced locks that are nearly impossible to pick?

We at New York Locksmith specialize in residential and commercial buildings and can significantly fortify your defenses. We also offer reliable 24-hour emergency locksmith in Queens and Brooklyn, NY!

Get in touch with us today to learn more about how you stand to benefit from our services.


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