A Brief History of Locksmiths Part II A Brief History of Locks Part II

Strange as it may seem the basic design of locks didn’t change much for over 1,700 years following ancient Egyptian times. It wasn’t until 1778 when Robert Barron patented his double acting tumbler lock that lock technology moved forward to any significant degree. Barron added his tumbler design to wards for increased security and his double acting lever tumbler lock was far more secure than other locks during that time. Today, basic tumbler locks are still essentially based on Barron’s original design. Barron’s lock avoided the problems associated with earlier lever tumbler locks which could be easily circumvented by any key or device thin enough to get past the ward. Barron added up to six double lever actions to the lock. At the time of its conception it was a widely held belief that a Barron lock was a secure lock that could only be opened with a proper key.

However, one problem that all locks had was that they often gave away their secrets. A key coated in wax could be inserted into a Barron lock and reveal the position of the levers. A new key could be made by filing the key where the wax had be pressed down or scraped away. Using this method if was often possible to fabricate a working key for a supposedly secure lock. It was this problem that ultimately led to the development of further new lock technology. The driving spark behind this revolution in lock technology was a burglary in Portsmouth Dockyard in 1817 which was carried out using fake keys to gain entry. This motivated the British Government to launch a high profile competition to produce a lock that could only be opened with its own, unique key.

Rising to this challenge Jeremiah Chubb invented and patented his detector lock in 1818. The detector lock was a four lever lock that when picked or opened with the wrong key would stop working until a unique key was used to reset it. Chubb referred to this unique feature as a regulator. The regulator was tripped when an individual lever was forced past the location need to bring the lever in line to open the lock. The strength of this innovation meant that Jeremiah Chubb was able to win the government competition and claim the £100 prize money. The rest is quite literally history. Chubb is now a household name on both sides of the Atlantic.

Another household lock brand name, Yale also started life in the ninetieth century. Back in 1848 Linus Yale Jr developed a cylinder lock, the basic design of which is still the most commonly used house hold lock in the western world today. Interestingly the design of the Yale cylinder lock owes a great deal to the work carried out by Egyptian locksmiths over two thousand years ago. Since 1865, there have been hardly any significant changes to the basic design of lock cylinders. In fact, most refinements since that time have been restricted to the addition of extra tumblers, variation in tumbler position. Most major changes in lock design have focused on the shape and installation methods of the lock.

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