The earliest examples of what we today would recognize as a lock, were found in the ruins of Nineveh, the capital of Ancient Assyria. The device was a simple wooden pin that fell into a hole in wooden bolt. Archaeologists also found wooden locks, more complicated than those in Assyria, in Egyptian excavations.
The first metal locks appeared in England in the late Ninth Century, and the island’s craftsmen continued to lead the Western world in design and innovation for security devices. In 1778, Robert Barron invented the first double-acting tumbler lock, and 40 years later, Jeremiah Chubb came up with a much improved version of Barron’s essential idea.
A robbery at the Portsmouth Dock Yard prompted His Majesty’s Government to offer £100 to anyone who could make an unpick-able lock. Chubb accepted the challenge, and pocketed the prize when a skilled lock picker failed to open his lock after three months of effort. Another locksmith, Joseph Bramah, went the government £100 better. In 1784, he displayed his Challenge Lock in the window of his shop and offered £200 to anyone who could pick it. An American, Charles Hobbs, won the money 67 years later when, in 1851, after 51 hours spread over 16 days, he cracked Bramah’s handiwork.
Locks have not changed all that much over the years. A modern locksmith would recognize the workings of a Chubb or a Bramah easily, but there are innovations on the scene, especially with automobiles.
“We get several calls a day to service people who can’t get in their cars,” Weston Gregory, the shop technician at Sherman Lock & Key aka Lock Doc, said.
The old solutions — a bent coat hanger, the infamous Slim Jim and the like — usually don’t work anymore. Electronics have seen to that. Many newer cars do not even have a key; push button remotes and starting have banished the car key from your pocket.
“Slim Jims don’t work anymore, but we have specialized tools and can get into almost anything,” Gregory said.
What about the new models with no key, no key hole, just a remote for entry and a push button to start and stop?
“We call those push-to-start or proximity remotes,” Gregory said. “Usually, in those systems, there is a key hidden in somewhere, often in the remote.”
Gregory grabbed a remote, flipped the end cap off, and sure enough, there was a key.
“The keyhole is usually hidden in the handle,” he said, as he fiddled with the trim piece at the end of the driver’s side door handle and uncovered a key hole.
Problem solved, although Gregory also advises that having an extra key, perhaps one that will open the car but not start it, is a good idea.
“With new cars, some people get a key that will just unlock the door, but will not start the car,” Michael Rodgers of Midway Lock & Key said. “They are a lot cheaper than chip keys, but for most people, we recommend a full second set of keys for each car in the family.”
The electronic revolution in locks has required that locksmiths keep up to date.
“In the past few months, we’ve been improving all of our technology and all of our systems, so we can deal with the latest models,” Rodgers said.
While the locksmith can duplicate almost any style of key these days, what do you do if the original is lost?
“All locks have a key code number,” Rodgers said. “It’s often attached to a key or lock. Most people throw them away. You ought to keep it; write it down in a safe place. If you bring me the code, I can put the information in the computer and make a new key.”
So much for cars; what about home security? Properly installed, the solid, deadbolt lock is still the best way to lock your house.
“Most residential locks are either Schlage or Kwikset,” Gregory said. “Of the two, I prefer Schlages. I think they are better made and they are a little harder to pick. If I have to pick a lock, I’ll be happier if it’s a Kwikset rather than a Schlage. Most builders will use cheaper stuff when they build a house, but there is better stuff designed for home use. We are starting to put more commercial type locks on houses as well.”
As for home applications, Rodgers said some people just want something cheap, though that isn’t going to provide much security.
“We offer higher end products, but often people just use some cheap knock-off brand, which doesn’t hold up very well,” Rodgers said.
Locks are like a lot of things; you generally get what you pay for, and what you get can depend on you making certain decisions rather than leaving the choices to someone else. Before you get new locks for any project, it would be good practice to talk with an expert before making a decision.