History of Locks

Sep 19, 2022|

Today, locks can be either mechanical or electronic. Over the past few decades, major technological advances have radically changed what sorts of locks are available and how they are opened. Just like locks have radically advanced, so have keys. Once, keys were almost always made from wood or metal. Some locks used keys, while others could be opened with a combination.

Today, locks can be opened with a fingerprint, facial recognition, or even a code sent from a cell phone. Today’s smart locks make it easier than ever before to protect your home, your family, and whatever else is important to you.

2000 B.C.E.: The earliest known example of a lock is used in ancient Assyria.

1 C.E.: Romans create metal locks and begin extensive use of locks in their homes, including special lockboxes to safeguard their valuables. It became fashionable to wear the keys to these lockboxes as a ring, both as a safety measure and a way to declare the person's wealth.

1206: The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, written by an engineer named Ibn al-Razzaz al-Jazari, describes a combination lock.

1300s: Belgians create the "drunk man's lock," so named because it's designed so that someone stumbling home in the dark could still easily insert the key into the lock.

1700s: The onset of the Industrial Revolution leads to mass-produced locks, meaning that more people of every class could buy and use locks on a regular basis.

1778: Robert Barron, an English locksmith, invents the double-acting tumbler lock, which requires a key that can raise two tumblers to different heights to unlock. This is the principle behind many modern locks.

1805: An American named Abraham O. Stansbury is the first to patent the pin tumbler lock.

1818: Jeremiah Chubb improves the basic lever tumbler lock by adding a mechanism that disables it if someone tries to pick it.

1848: Linus Yale, who goes on to found the Yale Lock Company, improves on the pin tumbler lock and patents his design, which is still in use today.

1873: James Sargent invents a lock that opens on a timer. Timer locks are commonly used on bank vaults today.

1910: John Junkunc of the American Lock Company patents the first single-dial combination lock that would go on to be sold to the general public.

1919: Harry Soref develops a padlock made of layers of laminated steel for use by the armed forces during World War I. He would go on to found Master Lock in 1921.

1920s: Schlage Lock Company begins selling cylindrical locks. This basic design is still in use today.

1928: The United States government orders $65,000 worth of padlocks from Master Lock in order to secure nightclubs raided and closed for selling alcohol during Prohibition.

1935: Master Lock begins selling combination locks.

1948: Henry Miller patents a lock designed for liquor cabinets. He would go on to design several locks used for filing cabinets and other office uses.

1969: Summer Saphirstein designs an electromagnetic lock to be installed at the Montreal Forum. This technology allows for all of the doors of a building to be unlocked quickly in an emergency.

1975: Tor Sørnes patents the first lock opened by a keycard. This technology would become popular with hotels.

1998: Kwikset introduces the first remote entry lock system for residential use.

2003: The first luggage locks approved by the TSA go on sale.

2008: Keyless entry locks for home use that consumers can program themselves hit the market.

2009: For the first time, consumers can buy combination locks that allow them to create their own combinations using both numbers and letters.

2014: Locks that use Bluetooth technology instead of keys are offered for residential and commercial use.

2017: Smart locks allow people to unlock them using a smartphone app even when they are not nearby.

More information