Padlock History

From the time man first had possessions, he has been looking for a means of protecting those possessions. It is known that the cave man built a fire to protect his cave entrance from animals who would steal his food. He would also place religious statues in the entrance to protect the cave while he was off hunting. The superstitious nature of the early cave man ensured that no one would risk invoking the wrath of the god the statue represented by entering the cave.

As man became more civilized, superstition was not enough to keep other men from entering his home while he was away. The door was invented and intricately tied knots were used much like a padlock to secure it. Legend has it that one such knot, (the Gordian Knot), survived until 333 BC when Alexander the Great loosed it with his sword. This inherent lack of physical security, which Alexander the Great demonstrated, probably led to the invention of the more substantial locks that are still used today.

The Romans and the Chinese are credited with the simultaneous invention of the padlock. The Romans used a warded mechanism, and since their togas didn't have pockets, developed keys which could be worn as rings. While many locks must have been made of wood or iron and most were padlocks for chests, some of the bolts and locks were made of bronze and have survived. The bolts had holes in them that would only accept a key of the proper shape and many of the locks had figural designs invoking that old protection of the Gods. These bolts, (see figure 1), may be seen in some museums and many of the ring keys were made of bronze and may be found in museums also.

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Figure 1

Also shown in figure 1 is an example of the barbed spring typical of a Chinese padlock. The key acted directly on the spring(s) which were formed to simulate the effect of a fish hook when the lock was locked. Examples of this mechanism have shown up in cultures throughout the world and are still actively used to this day in some areas.

Our use of the word Padlock was established in the 1300ís in England.  Thieves in those days would follow behind wagons and coaches and ply their trade.  They were called footpads and the lock that could stop them became known as a Padlock.

Padlocks today are available with a variety of locking mechanisms ranging from the simple ward to lever tumblers to pin tumblers or combinations and even electronics.  Any lock that is portable is a padlock and great advances have been made in materials and design.

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