The Evolution Of Locks
The need to keep valuables safe emerged with the concept of value – which was directly descended from the concept of ownership. In order to keep what is ours in our possession, human beings have long sought better ways of creating mechanisms to deter those who would seek to relieve us of our possessions. There have been a number of significant improvements to the design of locks over the years, although the fundamental concept on which most of today’s locks are based originated in ancient Egypt about 4000 years ago.
Ancient Egyptian locks were based on the pin tumbler system, in which the pins, when loose, fall unevenly and keep the lock from turning. When lifted and rearranged with a key, the pins line up and allow the lock to turn freely. This system relies on gravity to engage the locking mechanism, and only someone who has the right key can open the lock. The ancient Egyptians used devices made from wood and massive wooden keys, often more than a foot long so as to keep the pins as deep inside the door – and therefore as far away from potential lock-pickers – as possible.
The Romans picked up on the pin tumbler concept and made their own improvements to it, using metal locks and keys and producing both in smaller sizes. Because locks were expensive to produce – and the rich had the most valuables to secure – conspicuously carrying many small metal keys became a symbol of status and wealth. In the meantime, other methods were developed for keeping possessions secure: Gordian knots, so complicated only the ones who tied them could undo them; moats or pools guarded by hungry crocodiles; even remote islands whose locations were known (hopefully) only to the owner of the treasures stored there. None of these devices remains in widespread use today, but the pin tumbler lock endured.
The next innovation in locks occurred about two millennia after the Romans first adopted their use. Inventors such as Joseph Bramah in the 1700s, as well as Linus Yale, Sr. and Jr. in the 1800s, found ways to make the pin and tumbler system more precise, complex, and difficult to pick. Bigger and more complicated safes and vaults were developed, using various materials and designs to increase security from thieves but maintaining the basic lock mechanism first conceptualized by the Egyptians. This mechanism predominates today and is found all around us – in our front doors, our bicycles locks, our car ignitions, and just about anywhere else we might have a need to keep something in, or someone out.
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A security expert who advises people on safety and security. You can find his thoughts at wordpress blog.
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