Taking the first documented lock into consideration, we can say the history of locks began 2.700 years ago in Ancient Egypt.
Since then – although not consistently – ingenious locksmiths have been adding improvement after improvement until they got to the locks we’re familiar with today.
That said, we’d like to present three of the locksmiths to whom we owe a great part of the current level of home security.
1. Linus Yale
Bearing the best-known name in the locking industry, Yale began as a locksmith due to his father who specialized in producing high-security bank locks.
Taking his father’s legacy further, Linus Yale patented a pin tumbler cylinder lock. Then he went on to perfect the combination lock (a lock typically used to secure safes).
His most important contribution to the history of locks is the Yale cylinder lock (patented in 1865).
The model worked on a simple principle – ‘an inner cylinder that turns on an axis inside an outer cylinder’ – which made it easier to manufacture. Plus, it required a small key that was a lot more convenient to carry than its predecessors.
The many breakthroughs Yale has effected were joined by yet another success: the founding of Yale&Towne Company in 1868, which soon expanded worldwide.
2. Harry Soref
In the history of locks, a lot of defining moments had to do with crafting locks that were reliable, easy to replicate, and accessible to a wider range of homeowners.
Harry Soref is one of the locksmiths who made this possible with his laminated padlock.
Having worked as a locksmith for a while, he noticed that the average lock models were prone to easily being damaged. So he came up with the idea of laminating the layers of steel (a technique used for securing bank vaults) instead of using stamped metal shells, thus ensuring much more strength to the padlock.
And once he founded the Master Lock company in 1921, he even started manufacturing these locks himself.
This marked a significant development, as locks began to be more resistant and thus reliable for widespread use.
3. Harry Houdini
He may have been a brilliant magician, but Harry Houdini is included in this list (and in the history of locks) because he was also a magician of locksmithing. And lockpicking, especially.
Born in 1874 under the name of Ehrich Weisz, the Hungarian-native emigrated to America, settling in New York in 1882.
Since the age of 11, he worked as an apprentice to a local locksmith (where he soon managed to be a master in this craft), then moved on to performing as a circus trapeze artist and in vaudeville acts. Soon after, Harry started to gain a reputation as a daredevil magician. His exhibitions implied heart-stirring acts of extrication from:
- confined spaces,
- locked containers.
One of his secrets was an uncanny skill of manoeuvring locks and lockpicking any system. The unusual agility he possessed was partly explained by an early age apprenticeship at a local locksmith.
The relentless illusionist and escapologist drove progress in the history of locks once locksmiths started to design the so-called ‘unpickable locks’ that were supposed to end Houdini’s agility.
One of the challengers was Nathaniel Hart, the Birmingham lock virtuoso who spent five years crafting an unbreakable lock.
Like Hart, there were other locksmiths who, wanting to defeat Houdini, pushed their craft further and tried to design safer locks. These efforts which were triggered by Houdini have led us to consider him a pivotal figure in shaping the history of locking systems.
History of Locks – The Story Carries on
At the moment, keyless access into our homes seems to be the major trend to be widely adopted by regular homeowners.
While locks are indeed morphing into app-controlled devices, the classic lock is not likely to go anywhere.
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