Famous Locksmiths Throughout History

The first lock (and perhaps Locksmiths) can link back to as early as 704BC! Since then we have seen vast innovation within lock and security systems. What you might not know is there are some famous people throughout history that have had a hand in locksmithing. We have created a list of some of our favourites.

  1. Harry Houdini

Arguably the greatest showman of his time, Houdini wowed the masses with his daring tricks and is credited with inventing the art of escapology. However, did you know that at the age of 9, Houdini became an apprentice of a local Locksmith teaching him all about locks and how to open them. This would serve him very well later in life.

At the high of his fame, his acts could draw tens of thousands of people with his greatest challenge being set by the Daily Mirror during his 1904 tour of England.  He was presented with a pair of ‘unpickable’ handcuffs that featured 21 leavers and an old style Bramah lock that was locked away within another lock, a lock within a lock principle. After an hour and ten minutes he finally was free of the handcuffs and completed his most difficult challenge or so everyone thought. It is debated that he never opened the lock but instead was slipped a key after the fail attempt!

Either way, Houdini was a master of picking locks and it enabled him to perform amazing feats that stunned thousands. So it’s hard to imagine him completing his most amazing tricks without his background in locksmithing.


  1. Pharaoh Khufu of Egypt

The name might not be familiar but the Pharaoh is best known for the creation of The Great Pyramid of Giza; which has one of the very first safeguarding systems in the world, and the Sphinx.

Deep within the great pyramid sits an intricate system of blocks, grooves and shafts to protect the mummified body of Khufu and all his worldly treasures. To protect from grave robbers, a series of several granite blocks dropped into grooves and down shafts to block entrances within the King’s chamber after his burial, paired with dead ends, spring traps and endless corridors it was one of the first safeguarding systems of that design at the time.

Most interestingly, it is suggested that Khufu’s real burial chamber has still never been found. It is thought that after the burial, grave robbers broke into the pyramid and raided the chamber. However it is now thought that the main chamber is a decoy meant to fool any grave robbers to protect the real treasures hidden away. If this true, archaeologists have still not been able to locate the primary chamber meaning that this might be the most efficient security system in the world!


  1. King Louis XVI

Most known for losing his head and causing the fall of the French monarchy, a little known fact about Louis XVI is that he was a keen Locksmith. Whilst at Versailles, he had a forge installed above his personal library to indulge his obsession with locks and would often spend many hours forging, to the great displeasure of Marie Antoinette.

To learn his craft, the chateau’s blacksmith Gamin was employed to teach the King all he knew, and Louis XVI had such trust in him that he employed him to create a special lock for his personal affects. However unbeknown to the king, Gamin was a part of the revolutionists and eventually betrayed the king by giving the revolutionists the key to open the lock that guarded his personal documents that ultimately sealed his fate.

The skills and talents of Locksmiths hold mysteries beyond just opening a lock, who knows the next great Locksmith could invent something that could revolutionize the world. Whether its ingenious security systems way above their time or using the skills do something that truly amazes, the techniques and tricks that you learn as a Locksmith are truly a treasure.

The History Of Locksmiths

When did locksmithing begin?Egyptian Locksmiths and Key

Scientists and historians can date the first lock (and therefore locksmiths) back to 704BC; it was discovered in the ruins of the Assyrian empire in the city of Khorsabad (Northern Iraq). This wooden lock consisted of different lengths pins to prevent the lock from opening without inserting a bulky cumbersome wooden key into the lock which would push the pins upwards and unlock it.

Locks stayed practically the same up until around 870-900 AD, when the first metal locks started to appear. Soon locks made of iron or brass could be found all over Europe and even as far as china. These locks were operated by keys that could be turned, screwed or pushed. During this time locksmithing was a profession that created locks and keys.

The 14th to 17th century saw the rise in artistic achievements, the ornamentation of the keys used for locks started becoming more important, locksmiths were now not only in charge of ensuring the functionality of the keys, but the aesthetics value as well. Locksmiths were often invited to create locks with intricate and beautiful designs for members of nobility, they would often design locks inspired by royal crest symbols. It was not the easiest of careers though as being a locksmith in Europe at that time could have got you hanged. In France, for example locksmiths had to follow draconic rules stipulated in special guidebooks and could be punished if they did not comply.

While the aesthetics of locks changed, there were few improvements made to the lock mechanism themselves. That was until advances in metal works in the 18th century were locksmiths were now able to create more durable and secure locks and keys

The industrial revolution that changed the locksmith industry, 18th century.

The industrial revolution generated the mass production of cheap industrial locks, which took the lucrative market of locksmithing away. Therefore, locksmiths had to become more specialised. There were two fields locksmiths could enter, they would either work as a repairman for industrial locks and replicate keys for people who wanted more of them available for personal use, or work for large security companies who designed and built safes for banks and governments.

From this period the locks we all know today were created.

The first serious attempt to improve security was created by Robert Barron in 1778, he patented a double acting tumbler lock. This enormous advance in lock design remains the basic principle of all lever locks, however it offered little resistance to a determined lock picker.Joseph Bramah Locksmiths

In 1784 Joseph Bramah created an alternative method which worked from an entirely different principle. His locks used a round key with notches along the surface. These notches would move metal slides that would interfere with the opening of the lock, at the time it was said to be unpickable. Bramah was so confident on its level of security that he exhibited one in his London shop and offered £200 (Around £40,000 in today’s money) to the first person would could open it.

Another famous lock was created after a burglary occurred in Portsmouth dock in 1817, which lead the British government to create a competition to produce a more superior lock. Jeremiah Chubb, who developed the Chubb detector lock, won the competition after a lock picker in prison was given the task of picking the lock with his freedom offered as a reward. He gave up after failing to it open it for 3 months. This lock not only made it difficult for someone to pick it, it would also indicate to the locks owner if it had been tampered with. Jeremiah and his brother Charles then started up their own lock company, Chubb. Over the next couple of decades, they made vast improvements to the standard lock and key systems, including using six levers compared to the standard four.

Bramah’s lock and the Chubb detector lock remained unpicked until the great exhibition in 1851 where Alfred Charles Hobbs opened both of them.linus yale jr locksmithing

Another major improvement in locks was the double acting pin tumbler lock, the earliest patent for this design was granted in 1805, however the modern version, which is still used today, was invented in 1848 by Linus Yale, his lock design used pins of different lengths to stop the lock from opening without the correct key. In 1860s, his son Linus Yale Jr evolved the Yale cylinder lock, with its small, flat key with a serrated edge, now probably the most familiar lock and key in the world.

The world’s first successful key-changeable combination lock was created in 1873 by James Sergeant. With four tumblers each having 100 numbers creates one hundred million possible combinations. This combined with the possibility of changing the right combination made it desirable for safe manufactures.

Modern-day Locksmiths

In the present day, locksmiths tend to work out of a workshop or from a mobile locksmith vans. They sell, install, maintain and repair locks and other security devices.

Locksmiths have to apply skills in metalwork, woodwork, mechanics and electronics. Many tend to focus on the residential sector or work for commercial security companies. However, they can also specialise in other aspects like being a forensic locksmiths or in a particular area such as auto locks.

The future of locksmiths

With electronic locks becoming more of a common site, it’s not too farfetched to suggest electronic locks could be used in the majority of the UK in the future, locksmiths would then have to adapt to be able to open electronic doors.

As one of the oldest professions you can be sure that the future of locksmithing will adapt to wherever locks go, when new locks are made locksmiths will find a way to unlock them.

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