5 Facts You Didn’t Know About Locks

Locks today are so ubiquitous and common that we hardly even think about them. They have become totally unremarkable in many of our eyes. But, can you imagine what would happen tomorrow if all the sudden the world was without locks? There would be no way to protect your home or car, or to secure your possessions. They say that familiarity makes people take things for granted, and that is undoubtedly true with the lock. So, in the spirit of celebrating one of the most revolutionary devices that humanity ever created and one of the most useful items we use today, we’re going to deliver 10 facts that you didn’t know about locks, and the trade of the locksmith.

  1. The oldest lock ever discovered was 4,000 years old. It was found in a cave in what used to be ancient Egypt. That’s right, it looks like those clever Egyptians were the original inventors of the lock, right along with ink, ox-drawn plows, papyrus (paper) and a system for the written word. Ancient Egypt may have been the most innovative society that ever existed, and locks were one of their most important inventions.

  1. The earliest attempts at securing items, before the now-common tumbler locks, were various knots in rope. Knots like the thief knot or the gordian knot allowed sailors and others to secure their belongings and detect if they had been tampered with.

    The double acting tumbler lock in action. (photo by Joram van Hartingsveldt)

  1. The first real attempt to improve the security of the tumbler lock was made in 1778, when British inventor Robert Barron patented a double-acting tumbler lock. These locks, which are still in use today, require the lever in the mechanism to be lifted to a precise height. Either too high, or too low would not open the device.

  1. The locksmith trade was somewhat hurt by the advent of modern mass production processes that could produce locks en masse and very cheaply. Traditionally, a locksmith did not only help to open and install locks, but also built them by hand, including customized variations for every application.

  1. An American named James Sargent was the inventor of the first combination lock which could have its key combination changed after manufacturing. His invention, first developed in 1857, still underpins the technology of many time-lock mechanisms in modern bank vaults.