Locksmiths: The Gatekeepers of Society
As long as there have been locks – and they were used in Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt – there have been locksmiths to make them, pick and repair them.
The first locks were made of wood, and the locksmiths who made them would have been glorified if ingenious carpenters. Later, much later, came metal locks (the ‘Smith’ part of ‘locksmith’ refers to somebody who works with metal).
By now locksmiths were not far removed, perhaps even doubled for clockmakers and gunsmiths who created the firing mechanism or ‘lock’ used on early muskets and pistols.
That was until the locksmiths Linus Yale and Jeremiah and Charles Chubb came along. By the middle of the nineteenth century the cylinder pin-tumbler lock invented by the American locksmith, and the detector locks of the English brothers were being fitted to more and more buildings, to safes and strong boxes, gates, doors and windows.
These locksmiths were meeting a demand for greater security in a world where money no longer comprised mainly heavy coins, but was most often in the form of easily carried (and easily stolen) bank notes.
Meanwhile more and more patents were being filed by a growing number of locksmiths.
Mass production and ease of use meant locks were seen more and more as a necessity – and the locksmith as a more and more important craftsman.
Whereas once it was safe enough to keep valuables in a locked chest and even to leave the door unlocked, modern life brought the need for greater security.
And as those who would circumvent locks for their own devious purposes became more ingenious, so locks themselves became increasingly more complex – and the locksmiths who install, service and sometimes had to override them, became more sophisticated and skilled.
Today buildings, cars, boats, lorries, bicycles even computers and other such devices (anything of value that moves) must now be locked in some way. Common sense dictates this and insurance policies demand it.
In addition to locks, property is now often protected by surveillance systems, alarms, and other security devices that could not even have been imagined only a few years ago.
Today locksmiths are much, much more than skilled metal workers. A modern locksmith is part craftsman, part electronics engineer, part computer wizard.
A locksmith can find him or herself confronted with mechanical and electromechanical locks, with deadlocks, cylinder locks, padlocks of varying complexity, magnetic keyed locks and a variety of other types of lock. And the complexity of such devices keeps on increasing.
As locks become more complicated, so the penalty of poor installation, poor maintenance and loss of keys becomes greater. Even getting a car to start when the key has gone missing can now involve reprogramming so as to overcome a disabling mechanism as well as duplication of a physical (laser cut?) key.
Locksmiths asked to help a shopper who has lost his or her key back into the home left but an hour before, can be faced with other complications. Locksmiths sometimes have to become lock breakers in order to gain access.
Society as a whole judges these consequences as a small price to pay for avoiding the inconvenience of rampant car theft, or incessant burglary.
It is little wonder locksmiths now specialise in different areas, each demanding in its own right. But like the devices in which they specialise, locksmiths offer what is becoming an increasingly essential service.