The History of Locksmithing

You call out a locksmith to reprogram your smart locks. They show up soon after in their mobile van filled with a variety of tools and gadgets. It all feels very modern and sophisticated, but their profession is built on a long and fascinating history, ever-changing to get the industry to the point it’s at today.

The origins of locksmithing

Most accounts date the profession of locksmithing back 4,000 years to ancient Egyptian and Babylonian times. Locksmiths crafted locks and keys to allow people to secure their belongings, typically while on the road. Door locks were usually connected to a wooden bar that blocked the door from being opened until unlocked.

Back then, locks and keys were made from wood, but they still used a similar premise as some modern locks. The locks contained pins that kept the mechanism secure. A wooden key would be crafted with a corresponding design to push the lock’s pins into a flushed position so the lock could open.

Improved designs

The first major shift in locksmithing was around 900AD when the first metal locks were invented. From this point onwards, locksmiths had to use blacksmithing techniques to craft locks and keys. The resulting metal locks were much more durable than the original wooden locks, and paved the way for more advanced and secure designs.

Locksmiths had to be very skilled at their craft, and innovation continued in the 18th and 19th centuries. Here are some of the key inventions (pun intended!) that transformed locksmithing:

  • The double-acting tumbler lock – invented in 1778 by Robert Barron.
  • The Chubb lock – Jeremiah Chubb improved on Barron’s design in 1818 by adding a spring to the lock that made it more difficult to pick or bypass.
  • The pin tumbler lock – invented in 1805 by Abe Stansbury.
  • The Yale lock – Stansbury’s design was improved on, first by Linus Yale Sr. and then by his son, Linus Yale Jr., to create the Yale lock we are familiar with today.

Locksmithing today

The new beginning of locksmithing as we know it today begun around the time of the industrial revolution. As machinery advanced and factories became commonplace, mass production became more common in many industries. Locks starting being mass-produced by companies, leaving the independent locksmiths somewhat out of a job. They were no longer needed to craft locks and keys, so they had to transfer their skills to other processes, like repairing mass-produced locks, instead.

Today’s locksmiths have a number of responsibilities related to home, commercial, and automobile security. Common tasks include repairing, replacing, and rekeying locks. And now, locks have evolved one step further to include smart and electronic locks, which required locksmiths to adapt their skills when they were first introduced.

The role of a locksmith is extremely varied, and still requires a great deal of skill. If you want to find out more about what we do or if you need the services of an emergency locksmith, then get in touch with JB’s Lock and Key.