Famous Locksmiths Through the Ages

A look at famous locksmiths from the Georgian era to the present day

Famous Locksmiths' bunch of keys

World Famous: a bunch of Yale keys. Image by Ad Oculos (via Shutterstock).

Locks, latches, and access control systems have come on in the last century. Electronic systems stand alongside traditional mechanical locks. In some cases, mechanical locks are no longer enough, especially as CCTV systems and keypad combination codes are commonplace. Whether or not Harry Houdini could work a combination code in no time at all we never knew. As well as Houdini, this post looks at a few other famous locksmiths.

Historically, being a locksmith was a trade that was passed down from generation to generation. An apprentice would have a mentor, where the apprentice would gain enough skills to pass the trade onto his or her successor. One or two of them would develop their own locking systems. As well as being famous locksmiths, their pioneering work would spawn a global brand or two. A Yale lock to door locking systems is like the Hoover is, in relation to vacuum cleaning.

Here’s our little list of famous locksmiths.

Joseph Bramah

Joseph Bramah’s impenetrable (for its time) Bramah Lock was invented in 1784 and formed the forerunner of today’s door locks. For sixty-five years, it was considered as an ‘unpickable’ lock. Eventually, it was picked by A.C Hobbs, and it took him 50 hours to achieve this feat.

Jeremiah Chubb

In 1818, Jeremiah Chubb invented the first detector lock, as the result of a Government competition entry. His lock was unpickable till 1851. When used with a wrong key, the lock would jam. This would be rectified by a special regulator key – or by placing the correct key in the lock.

Charles Chubb

Jeremiah’s brother, Charles, improved the original lock by replacing the regulator key with a button. This saw no need for the separate key. Instead, the lever tumblers were increased from four to six. The resultant design was a hybrid Chubb-Bramah lock.

After settling in Portsmouth, the brothers left for Wolverhampton. At that time, the Staffordshire town was the heart of British lock making. They formed their own company and the rest, as they say… is lockpicking history. The Chubb name is no longer a major brand today. It is part of Mul-T-Lock’s UK product range and in Swedish hands as a member of the ASSA ABLOY group.

Linus Yale (Senior) and Linus Yale (Junior)

Linus Yale (Senior) was born on the 27 April 1797 in Middletown, Connecticut, before moving to Salisbury in New York. In the village of Newport, in the early 1840s, he opened a lock shop and invented a six tumbler lock. His son joined in 1850 and improved on his father’s design. Junior’s lock was a smaller flat key with a serrated edge. Invented in 1861, it set the trend for subsequent Yale locks. A year later, they developed the first modern combination lock.

In 1868, they opened their first factory in Stamford, Connecticut. Like Chubb, Yale became a global brand with many a modern home sporting a Yale lock or five. They too are in Swedish hands, as another member of the ASSA ABLOY group.

JR Security Devices, 12 September 2016