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 A Brief History of Locksmiths

It seems safe to assume that there have been locksmiths around since the advent of locks.  After all, wherever there is a lock, there is an opportunity to get hopelessly locked out, right?  But when did the locksmith profession separate itself from basic lock picking, and how has it evolved over the years?  Here is a brief history of locksmiths:

Middle Ages.  Although locks and keys were around before the Middle Ages, locksmithing did not become an individually recognized specialty until this time period.  The term “locksmith” is actually a derivation of the word “blacksmith.”  During the Middle Ages, blacksmiths were the artisans who created metal battle gear for the knights and their horses.  However, it wasn’t unusual for blacksmiths to also forge locks and keys.  Those blacksmiths who branched out into specializing in the making of locks and keys came to be known as locksmiths. 

Early 1900’s.  In response to growing security threats, locks began to change significantly after the turn of the century.  By the 1930’s, locksmithing was performed by a variety of related business owners, from clockmakers to gun repairers, and locksmithing was considered a craft – not a profession.  It was typically something that was passed down from generation to generation.  During this time, the Ilco Simplex key duplicating machine was invented. 

World War I.  Because most locksmiths and lock manufacturers devoted their skills to the war effort during this time period, very little changed in the design of locks.  The Post Type cutter was invented for the manufacture of automobile keys, and the padlock was invented for cabinets, toward the end of the war. 

Post-war.  The lock industry boomed following the war.  Schlage’s cylindrical lock became the standard, and the Ten Strike and Align-a-Lock were invented, forcing locksmithing into a recognized profession.  The first-ever locksmith school – Lockmasters – was founded in 1955, as well as the trade organization of The Associated Locksmiths of America. 

Locksmithing today.  New technology, coupled with an increasing need for more secure locks (as well as commercial locks) moved the locksmith profession rapidly forward following the post-war innovations.  In the 1980’s, the government began regulating locksmithing, requiring licensing and certification in some states, and standardizing the profession.  The digital age ushered in the advent of electronic locks, and locksmithing continues to evolve to suit the modern times. 

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