The History of the Front Door Lock

December 6, 2017

Are you using the same type of lock that your great-grandfather used?

A lot has changed over the past century: our means of communication have evolved from telegraphs to landlines to the sleek iPhones of today, and our preferred mode of transportation has shifted from horse-drawn buggies to high horse-powered cars. Yet, in this age of innovation, one thing has remained notably unchanged: home security. From interior and front door locks to safes and padlocks, the ways in which we keep unwanted people out of our homes have remained remarkably constant.

Of course, our society wasn’t always so concerned with securing our private residences. So where did the first lock originate? Let’s take a look back at the earliest locks, and how they’ve evolved into the front door locks of today.

The Earliest Locks

The earliest known lock, which was discovered in the ruins of ancient Assyria, was actually made entirely out of wood — making it relatively useless, but symbolically powerful. Later developed into the Egyptian wooden pin lock, this early device was essentially a pin tumbler lock consisting of a wooden post affixed to the door with a horizontal bolt that slid into the post. The bolt had openings where the pins were located, and only the key, once inserted and lifted, could unlock the door.

The next milestone in the evolution of the lock and key came in 870 at the hands of the Romans. Their all-metal lock was much sturdier than the wooden lock and key, but its high cost was prohibitive: the metal used to construct the lock was very expensive at the time, making these all-metal locks a privilege of the upper classes.

As a result, keys became a status symbol of sorts, indicating that their bearer owned valuables worth protecting (and the means to protect them!). Consequently, Roman nobles would sport keys as jewelry — wearing them around their fingers to keep them safe, as well as to flaunt their wealth. Many were decorated with elaborate designs, usually inspired by the Gothic architecture of cathedrals and arches. Keys were also emblazoned with a family’s coat of arms and other religious symbols.

The Industrial Revolution & the Modern Lock

During the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s, new manufacturing processes enabled the mass production of many metal-based products, including locks and keys. Metallurgy advanced, and with the increased efficiency of factories and assembly lines, the price of metal dropped, making locks and keys affordable to the layperson for the first time. It was also during this time that American inventor Linus Yale invented the double tumbler and cylinder locks, which are still widely used today.

While the traditional metal lock and key is still a staple of home security today, advances in security technology have begun to diversify the market. People are increasingly turning to digital locks, or “smart locks,” as a means to protect their homes and other valuables. Even so, the vast majority of homes are still protected by old-fashioned locks and keys, and their ubiquity will likely persist for years to come. If you’re concerned that your 1800s-style lock is in need of an update, give NYC’s most highly-rated locksmith a call today.

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