This Is How Safe Locks Got So Complicated

1,534 Views Updated: 03 May 2018
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This Is How Safe Locks Got So Complicated

Most people looking at a locking mechanism may see a simple device to close and open doors. However, inside each one of those devices is hidden a complicated history spanning thousands of years. In order to understand how safe locks are built today, it’s important to know their history.

The story of locks began over 4,000 years ago 

Some of the oldest locking mechanisms originated over 4,000 years ago. These were found by archeologists in the Khorsabad Palace ruins and determined to be ancestors to the pin tumbler lock, based on large wooden bolts. Another type of lock that originated from ancient history is the warded lock. This first appeared in an all-metal version in the years 870 through 900. Later on, wealthy Romans were known to secure their valuable possessions in safe boxes and wear the keys as finger rings.

Fire was a big motivation in the invention of locks and safes 

One of the main motivations behind the creation of lock mechanisms is to protect themselves from fire. From the Egyptians to the Greeks, modern mankind has always sought to protect their possessions from this threat. This began with iron boxes in Julius Caesar’s era, underground vaults, and treasure chests. Iron safes did not get introduced until the 1830s.

Lock business boomed during the Industrial Revolution 

The Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th century witnessed a number of technical developments related to the security of locks. This was also the time when the United States started manufacturing and exporting its own door hardware.

Safe Locks underwent dramatic changes from 1805 and on 

It wasn’t until 1805 that American physician Abraham Stansbury secured the first patent for a double-acting pin tumbler lock. To this day, we use the modern version of this lock, which was invented later on in 1848 by Linus Yale, Sr.

In between these staggering innovations, many inventors and locksmiths patented advances in locking mechanisms. For instance, Joseph Bramah patented the safety lock in 1784. He is also credited for inventing a working planner, a beer pump, a hydrostatic machine, and other innovations. 

Later, in 1857, the first key-changeable combination lock was introduced by James Sargent. He later patented a time lock that served as the prototype of the versions used in modern bank vaults.  

Fast-forward a few years to 1861, and Linus Yale, Jr. introduced a patent of cylinder pin-tumbler. A year later, he created the modern combination lock. Last but not least, Samuel Segal, a former policeman in New York City, created the jimmy-proof locks in 1916. He was followed by Harry Soref, the founder of Master Lock Company, who invented an improved version of the padlock. 

Smartlocks for safes are just the most current invention to secure our belongings 

Today’s modern locking mechanisms are a result of the initial standardized safe protection tests in 1917. It is thanks to these that safes started being constructed differently to provide increased safety and protection. This also included the implementation of radically different locks for modern consumption. The most prevalent and modern examples are smart locks, which combine technology with adaptability.

While it is not surprising these days to lock your home from your smartphone, we often forget that it all started with humankind’s need to feel safe. As complicated as safe locks have gotten, safety and security are still top concerns.  


• Bellis, Mary. "Learn More About the History of Locks." ThoughtCo. Accessed February 02, 2018.

• "History of Safes." Safe and Vault Accessed February 02, 2018.

• History of Safes and Bank Vaults. Accessed February 02, 2018.

• "Effective Physical Security." Google Books. Accessed February 02, 2018.

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