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history of locks

The History of Locks

Locks are essential everyday items, making it hard to imagine life without them. Security and safeguarding belongings have always been a priority, leading to the long history of locks.


Historians estimate that locks have existed for around 6,000 years. The earliest records of locks date back to Ancient Mesopotamia, which is 600 years before the invention of writing!


During Ancient Egypt, locks were quite common, and many principles from that time still apply today. Initially, locks were made entirely of wood, but the Egyptians later incorporated brass components.


Locks then spread throughout Greece, Rome, and China. The Ancient Greeks used a curved sickle-shaped key, while the Chinese invented various lock styles, including padlock-like mechanisms. However, the most significant advancement in lock history came from the Romans.

old locks

Ancient Romans began manufacturing locks from metal, significantly increasing their strength and resistance to tampering. Instead of being easily breakable, locks became robust and highly secure. 

The Romans also introduced the concept of wards, which prevented incorrect keys from entering and opening a lock. A ward is a block placed in front of the locking mechanism, ensuring that only a key of the correct shape can fit into the keyhole. Following the Romans’ contribution, lock technology remained relatively unchanged throughout Medieval Europe until the Industrial Revolution.

The next notable development in locks occurred in 1778 when Robert Barron invented the lever lock—a style that is still occasionally used today. Lever locks consist of multiple levers inside the mechanism, which are lifted by the key. These levers must be raised to precise heights to unlock the mechanism. Joseph Braham further improved Barron’s lock design in 1784, enhancing security and making it more difficult to pick.

In 1818, Jeremiah Chubb invented the Chubb Detector Lock, a lever tumbler lock with a relocking mechanism that would prevent picking attempts and indicate if tampering occurred. This lock became famous and was featured in many Sherlock Holmes stories.

The pin tumbler style lock, invented by Linus Yale Sr. in 1848, is the lock we commonly associate with modern designs and is still widely used today.

Despite the continued use of pin tumbler style locks, lock and key technology continues to evolve. With advancements in modern technology, the security and convenience of locks have only improved. Electromagnetic locks utilizing electronic currents through the key, keypad-based electronic locks, fingerprint scanners, and smart locks that connect to smartphones with built-in cameras provide enhanced security options available 24/7.

If you want to update your locks at home from something that feels a little too similar to Ancient Mesopotamia to something more secure, contact Armstrong Security today.