Locks have been around since thousand of years ago. And yet, even today they are still widely use for security. Since the invention of locks, innovations and technology has made their way to the evolution of locks that started from simple mechanical devices to advance electronic locks.
Locks are made to serve their one simple purpose and that is to secure. Whether you need to secure criminals on their cells, secure your house from unwanted visitors, or secure your luggage from prying hands, your locks are there to secure your belongings and not to let anyone steal from you.
It was believed that the first locks have been around 4,000 B.C. that was found in the ruins of the Khorsabad Palace in near Nineveh, the capital of ancient Assyria or in the modern day Iraq. They were discovered by archeologists in the mid-19th century.
It was back then a wooden design in which this was made as the foundation of the development of locks into becoming the modern locks of today. These wooden locks were developed into the Egyptian wooden pin lock which involves a wooden bolt that had a slot with holes on its surface. When the key is inserted, pins were lifted out of the holes to allow movement. When the key is removed, pins will fall into the bolt to prevent the bolt from being opened.
Fast forward to 1st millennia B.C., the key and pin principle was spread from Egypt to Greece and the Roman Empire. With the improvements of locks, they were designed to be smaller so they could secure chests and drawers. Romans would utilize iron materials to withstand against strong brute-force attacks. By this time, keys were also smaller that they could be store in pockets, or wear as a ring or as a pendant. It meant to be as an indication that whoever wear keys are rich to own possessions that need security.
In the Middle Ages, English craftsmen made the first warded locks that are completely made of metal. A warded locks have a keyhole with a series of concentric plates that block a key from moving. If the notches on the key match the plates, the key will turn freely for the bolt to move.
But this type of locks were easy to pick that all you need is skills and the proper tools. Instead of reengineering these locks, they were redesigned to confuse pickers like keys were made complicated and keyholes were manipulated that they are hard to be identified.
Then came the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th century, locks had evolved and technical developments were made giving them the quality of better security.
In 1778, Robert Barron patented the double acting lever tumbler lock. This design consists of two to four levers to be lifted into different specific heights.
But with the skills and proper tools, the lock could still be picked. That is why in 1784, Joseph Bramah patented the Bramah Lock. Similar to the previous design but this time, a cylindrical key presses a series of wafers instead of levers. Because he was very confident about his design, he put up a challenge in 1790 that whoever pick his lock, that man would win 200 gold guineas which is worth $200,000 today. For more than 60 years, it would remain unpick until 1851 at the Great Exhibition that the American locksmith, Alfred Hobbs which took him 51 hours.
There is more about Alfred Hobbs. In 1817, the British Government set up a competition with a prize of £100 that whoever creates a lock that can’t be opened would win. The person who won the competition was Jeremiah Chubb with his lock that was taken as an improvement of Robert Barron’s design. He added a feature that when the wrong key is used, the lock will jam unless the proper key is used. This lock was called Chubb Detector Lock and would have remained unpicked until Alfred Hobbs unlocked it in the Great Exhibition. This was the mark of history that America had ended the reign of England in being the best in locksmithing.
In 1848, Linus Yale, Sr. invented the double-acting pin tumbler lock. It consists of pins of different lengths to prevent the lock from opening if the wrong key is used. In 1861, his son Linus Yale, Jr. improved his father’s design and patented a compact cylinder lock with a smaller flat key that has a serrated edges and this lock was based loosely of the first Egyptian lock which you could be using as your lock for your front gate because it still widely used today, thus the famous brand Yale.
When 20th century arrived, Yale’s lock design had been improving with new designs from various locksmiths. In 1909, Walter Schlage invented a lock that can turn the lights on and off and the cylindrical pin-tumbler lock that pushes a button for locking that has been used even today. Along with Yale, Schlage is one of the world’s biggest lock manufacturers.
1857 is the invention of the key changeable combination lock by James Sargent. Then in 1873, he invented the a time lock which can only be open at a certain time. 1880 was then he invented the time-delay locks which can only be open after a specific interval. These types of locks were the first to be considered ‘smart’ back then.
1975 came and Tor Sørnes patented the electronic keycard lock. This was the rise of the electronic locks that can be programmed without using any key at all. Passwords were used as keys and the human body such as fingerprint, face, voice, eyes are your key to these locks called Biometric Locks.
In the recent decades until today, locks have been evolving ever since. Different companies are finding ways to make locks more secure and convenient like controlling the locks with the use of a smart phone. And with technological advancements and innovations with locks, the idea is limitless and the future has still a lot to offer. But do we really need these kind of features when we really need is security from just a simple key and a lock?