For as long as the human civilization has existed, there has always been the risk of having one’s property stolen. Accordingly, one of the oldest inventions ever created was for the purpose of preventing that from happening – the lock and key. In the beginning, before the first locks were created, people used simple techniques, like tying knots, to detect if somebody had attempted to get to their belongings. Soon these developed into more complicated mechanisms, made out of wood and metal.
Nobody is really sure where the first ones came from and today most scientists believe, that they may have actually developed across many ancient civilizations simultaneously. The oldest one ever found is six thousand years old and was discovered in the ruins of Khorsabad in Ancient Assyria. It was made out of wood and had three distinct parts - a bolt with holes inside it and a matching component with pins, which would slide inside, creating the locking mechanism. Finally, the key, which at that time was so big, it was carried over the shoulder, when inserted, would push the pins out, freeing the bolt to move.
This concept was later improved and popularized by the Egyptians. They reduced the mechanisms size and substituted the wooden pins with brass ones, adding durability. From there the locks made their way to Greece and then the Roman Empire. The Roman’s superior technology allowed them to create the whole thing out of iron and shrink the keys down to pocket-size. They also introduced the first wards – metal blocks inside the mechanism, making sure that only the correct key would be able to turn. However, after the fall of their Empire the development of the mechanism stalled for more than a thousand years. During the Middle Ages the warded key concept remained unchanged and craftsmen invested their efforts into confusing the lockpickers. Locks were made with multiple mechanisms, as well as adding hidden of hake keyholes and more complicated key designs.
The first modern locks were made during the Industrial Age. Several English engineers were able to create tougher and more complex mechanisms, filled with many small interlocking parts. One such, Joseph Bramah, was so confident with his cylindrical design, that he actually offered a reward to anyone, who was able to pick it. The challenge remained unbeaten for 67 years, until another locksmith, Alfred C. Hobbs, was able to pick it in 1851. It took him 51 hours.