A Brief History of Locksmithing and Locks

15 September 2023by easefix@gmail.com

A Brief History of Locksmithing and Locks

The history of locksmithing is as lengthy and rich as other traditional trades. From its humble historical beginnings, locksmithing has developed into the technologically advanced industry it is today. Let’s investigate the intriguing past of this significant profession and see how locksmithing has evolved while upholding continuity and tradition.

The Ancient Origins of Locksmithing

Locksmithing likely originated in Babylon and ancient Egypt around 4,000 years ago. Thus, one of the oldest occupations in human history is locksmithing. The Old Testament book of Judges, written around 1170 BC, refers to keys.

Early locksmiths crafted large, wooden locks unlike today’s, which could be manipulated by a wooden key. Trade merchants and other travelers used locks to keep burglars out of their possessions. These ancient locks date back to Assyria and are most ancient there, dating circa 704 BC.

Ancient locks were the forerunners of more sophisticated systems. Thus, it is vital to recognize them even though they may appear clumsy compared to modern mechanisms. Later, locks and keys went to China, Rome, and ancient Greece.

Roman aristocracy’s wealthy classes kept their goods locked away and displayed their social standing by wearing keys as rings. Numerous keys and locks belonging to upper-class members were found during Pompeii excavations.

Medieval Locksmithing: A Turning Point in the Evolution of the Trade

The early Middle Ages saw a significant advancement in locksmithing with the increasing usage of metal. During the Middle Ages, simple iron bolt locks gained ubiquity in England and extended throughout Europe and Asia. A spring lock from the Middle Ages to 850 was discovered in a Viking settlement close to York, England.

We may also infer from mediaeval art that locks and keys have been updated. Nobles’ padlocks and keys are shown in paintings and illuminated manuscripts. The renowned Bayeux Tapestry shows a duke giving William the Conqueror the keys to his town. The acquisition of locks and keys is also documented in writing from the 1300s.

Between the 14th and the 17th centuries, locks’ aesthetics significantly improved. Locksmiths learned the art of metalworking, and they started adorning their creations with elaborate designs fit for aristocracy. Chinese locksmiths used to frequently adorn their locks with intricate dragons and horses and give their creations to the kings as gifts.

It’s important to note that, despite improvements in the appearance of locks and keys, these internal mechanisms remained the same over time. Despite the lack of significant technological developments in the Middle Ages, locksmiths continued to develop effective locks and faced constant pressure to thwart robbers. A fetter lock, which kept livestock in their pasture, was one lock that was crucial during this time.

Locksmiths frequently installed more than one lock on a door to deter home burglaries. Armories, treasuries, and other significant locations frequently had up to a dozen locks on their doors. In the Middle Ages, locksmiths were employed by formal guilds. These guilds established the standards and regulations that locksmiths agreed to abide by. As their profession required identical tools and methods, locksmith enterprises first worked under blacksmith guilds.

In due course, locksmiths established their guild and conducted independent business from other metalworkers. Guilds mandated that locksmiths operate only within municipal bounds and that mayors or city councils fixed locksmiths’ fees. The laws were exceptionally harsh to stop locksmiths from committing theft and break-ins.

Locks and Keys in the 18th Century 

By the 1700s, metalworking and locksmithing had evolved to the point where locks operated more effectively. Lever tumbler locks, which needed more talent to unlock than their counterparts, were first created by Robert Barron in 1778. As a result, this lock was more reliable and is still in use today.

The Chubb brothers, Joseph Bramah and Linus Yale are other pioneers from this era. Modern locksmiths continue to utilize such locks since they were impenetrable at the time. Royalty like Louis XVI of France found locksmithing to be both a lucrative profession for working-class men and a pastime. Although Louis is widely recognized as one of France’s weakest kings, he was a technical genius and an expert locksmith in his spare time.

Francois Gamain, the king’s royal Locksmith, taught him everything he knew, and the king ordered a lockbox for essential papers. As a monarch, Louis’ passion for locksmithing was regarded as unique, and his contemporaries regularly remarked on it.

The job of locksmiths in the 18th Century was very similar to that of blacksmiths and other metalworkers. All employees, regardless of their status, were expected to master the fundamentals of locks and keys because the abilities required by these craftsmen overlapped quite a deal. Blacksmiths and locksmiths had access to a forge and an anvil to create essential locks and keys. However, in addition to other techniques related to their profession at the time, locksmiths were also proficient in lathe turning, spring tempering, screw manufacture, fitting, and hole punching.

During this time, advancements occurred, but mass production drove out craftspeople, altering locksmithing significantly. Many locksmiths changed their profession by working as repairmen and positioning themselves as experts. For large banks and businesses, locksmithing and critical replication became more common. These positions are still in demand today as locksmiths face new security concerns and ongoing industry improvements.


What is the history of locksmithing?

From ancient kingdoms to Biblical eras and beyond, the security provided by locks has made locksmiths invaluable throughout human history for safeguarding and restricting access.

For thousands of years, people have valued locksmiths’ skills in crafting and bypassing lock systems. The Judges book of the Old Testament, around 1170 BC, mentions keys.

When did locksmiths start?

The origins of locksmithing can be traced back over 4,000 years to Ancient Egypt and the Pharaoh Khafre. Around 2500 B.C., Khafre supported the creation of the first mechanical locks, featuring revolutionary components still in locks today. This marked the beginnings of locksmithing as a trade practiced to meet society’s security needs. Khafre’s patronage of early lock technology laid the groundwork for future innovations throughout history. The ancient Egyptian locks he commissioned so long ago contained the foundations of lock components and mechanisms that have become ubiquitous over millennia of locksmithing worldwide.

Who invented the Locksmith?

One of the oldest vocations is locksmithing.

About 4000 years ago, Babylon and Ancient Egypt likely marked the beginnings of lock development. Early locks were small, portable, and used to secure cargo along trade routes prone to robberies.

How did Locksmith get its name?

Blacksmiths, also known as smiths, are artisans who create iron on an anvil using hot and cold forging. Farriers were blacksmiths who specialized in creating horseshoes. Iron, traditionally known as “black metal,” and farrier, from the Latin ferrum, “iron,” are where the phrase “blacksmith” comes from.

Concluding Thoughts 

The history of locksmithing has evolved through significant eras yet retained an essence.

Ancient locks were crafted from wood and stone, evolving into intricate hand-forged metal locks during the Middle Ages due to security concerns. The Industrial Revolution enabled the mass production of locks. Despite these transitions, locksmithing still centers on detailed artistry, mechanical aptitude, and problem-solving ingenuity. While locks and tools have modernized, the creative spirit and agility at the heart of locksmithing endure. Adapting to cultural shifts, locksmiths have always leveraged their unique skills to satisfy society’s security needs. The trade transformed over time, but the intuitive talents of locksmiths persisted.

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