The oldest lock in the world is 6,000 years old

Just the basics

  • The lock and key are some of our oldest inventions
  • The first ones were made in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia and were made out of wood with bits of metal
  • The oldest lock ever was discovered in Ancient Assyria and originates from around 4,000 B.C.
  • The Romans reduced greatly the size of the locks and keys and made them out of iron
  • During the Middle Ages locksmiths concentrated into making locks more elaborate, instead of improving the mechanism
  • The locks we use mostly today were designed during the Industrial Age
  • For some of them it took decades, until someone was able to crack them

Finders, keepers

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. 

You can’t miss it

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. 

Mine is better

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. 

Challenge accepted

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.

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