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Locksmiths throughout history

Locksmiths throughout history

Overview of the development of locks throughout history

Locks and keys were known to man far before the birth of Jesus. They are mentioned frequently in the Bible and in mythology. In Nehemiah, we find a reference to the repair of the ancient gates of Jerusalem (evidently in 445 BC): "And the fish gate did the sons of Hassenaah build; they laid the beams thereof, and set up the doors thereof, the bolts thereof, and the bars thereof" (3:3). In that period, locks were made of wood, and they were large and crude. However they were used and worked the same way as today's locks.

When locksmiths and metalworkers became expert in their craft, they were asked to make locks for the royal courts, churches and cathedrals in Europe. They excelled at beautiful ornamentation, which frequently took on religious motifs.
"The guardian angels"
In India, under the rule of the Emperor of Annam, they would seal valuables in wooden chests that they placed on small islands they sunk to the bottom of moats that surrounded the castle. The valuables were protected by several crocodiles that were not fed sufficiently, meaning that they were always hungry. Entering the moat meant sure death for the would-be burglar. Legitimate access to the treasure was gained either by drugging or killing the crocodiles.




Knots in ropes
For hundreds of years, ropes made of bulrush fibers were used to "lock" doors and walls. Legend has it that Gordias, King of Phrygia (now Turkey), after whom the Gordian Knot was named, tied a very intricate knot between a pillar of Zeus Temple and his chariot. The oracle determined that only the person designated to rule Asia would be able to untie the knot. Despite this, when Alexander the Great was unable to untie the Gordian Knot, he sliced it in half with a quick stroke of his sword, and thus we have the term "cutting the Gordian Knot," which means take decisive, daring and effective action after moderate efforts have failed.
Locks from the East
Locks made of iron or brass were found in Europe and the Far East, and the Romans and Chinese made them accessible to all. They were operated by keys that turned, were screwed or pushed. The lock that was opened by a key that was pushed, had a simple structure and the bolt was kept in place by a



The initial development of locks
The first mechanical locks were made of wood, and were evidently created at the same time by several cultures. There is evidence that they were in use about 4,000 years ago in Egypt. Attached vertically to a post, the wooden lock contained a pin mechanism. The pins were drawn downward by gravity (like a Humpty Dumpty doll) and locked the door. This action was performed by a wooden key with bumps or teeth that pushed the pin up from the bolt and allowed it to be pulled back. The locking method marks the beginning of modern cylinder locks.

The first metal locks appeared between 870-900, and are attributed to expert English craftsmen. They were simple iron bolt locks, with grooves around the hole of the key, which prevented attempts to enter.
The Romans were the first to use a grooved lock. They designed a barrier mechanism that stops a key that does not fit the lock from being inserted or rotated. 



New lock options developed in Europe in the 17th century. Early Bramah locks were based on a round mechanical mechanism that provided extraordinary safety. The world's oldest lock company was still producing its famous mechanical mechanism two hundred years later.
The ancient lock
The first wooden lock was found in Iran. It was found in the capital of the Assyrian empire, Dur-Sharrukin (Khorsabad) on the gate to the palace of Sargon II of Assyria, who ruled between 722-705 BCE. It looks and operates much like the wooden lock. The bumps at the end of the key fit the end of the post or the lock. When the key was inserted, the bumps lifted the lock so that the bolt would move backwards and the door or gate could open.
Locks from the past
The design of locks and keys was influenced by gothic architecture and these ornate decorations also continued into the Renaissance. Expert locksmiths were invited to prepare locks for member of the nobility around Europe. Today, it is difficult to document their source. They were created specially in the country in which they were used hundreds of years ago.
Castles locks in Germany
The 14-17 centuries were a time of artistic achievements by fabulous craftsmen. Locksmiths were skilled metalworkers with international reputations. They were invited to prepare locks for members of the nobility around Europe. When designing the lock, they were inspired by the royal crest and symbols. They designed grooved locks with assembled parts and designed them to create harmony with the architecture in the palace or castle of their clients. However, there were very few improvements made to the lock mechanism. Safety became dependant on intricacy: hidden key dimples, misleading devoices and intricate grooved locks.
Security in the 14th and 15th centuries
In the 14-15 centuries, there were some significant improvements in the locking mechanism, however the decorations and designs developed significantly. The craftsmen excelled at metal work, designs and locks for gates, and production and design of locks for gates, doors boxes and closets.


A lock considered to be a work of art was never used to lock a door. It was designed and produced as a one-of-a-kind by the locksmith or by the iron tradesman as a test to reveal his level of expertise. Locks considered to be works of art were frequently on display, and were not covered so people could see the components of the mechanism, how it worked, and the impressive design and pleasure of covering the lock and the method of assembly.

Locks in ancient times
The Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and other cultures in the East, including the Chinese, knew about locks. The most common belief was that the first lock was portable, used to protect goods from thieves on the ancient routes, coasts and waterways the goods travelled.
Keeping prisoners under lock and key
For hundreds of years locks have been used imprison prisoners and lock up valuables. They were generally made of iron, bronze or brass, with a rough structure. Despite this, the internal locking mechanism remained simple and easy to pick.
Who isn't familiar with the infamous heavy ball and chain attached to prisoners' legs?

Boaz Femson, Founder and director of the Online Locksmith Course project 





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