Origins of Ordinary Things: Keys

People all over the world keep their property locked up to avoid falling victim to theft. According to ThoughtCo, a knowledge platform, archeological discoveries in the ruins of ancient Assyria estimate that the practice of using locks and keys began four to six thousand years ago in ancient Babylon and Egypt. The first version of keys was wooden pegs.

Metallic keys were introduced by the English and became common between 870 and 900 A.D. At this time, people were interested in securing different properties such as cabinets and safes and once they did that, they’d wear the keys as rings on their fingers. According to Wikipedia, an encyclopedia, wearing a key was a symbol of wealth since it indicated that the wearer had property worth protecting.

Ancient Romans also used keys to lock up territorial gates and protect themselves from invasions by enemies such as the Barbarians. This is according to the website Historical Locks.

According to Quora, a knowledge exchange platform, the industrial revolution which began towards the end of the 18th Century brought about improvements in securing and locking up places because engineers became more precise and product standards increased so that they were now more sophisticated.

One example of a sophisticated lock and key ensemble was the one developed by British inventor Jeremiah Chubb. In 1818 the British government held a competition for the production of a lock that could only be opened with its own key. Chubb then made a lock which not only prevented unauthorised access, but also alerted the owner of interference.

Another notable contributor is American inventor Linus Yale Snr. who, in 1848, made a lock that had pins with different lengths which prevented anyone from opening without the correct key. Later, his son Linus Yale Jr. improved the invention to make the flat key with jagged edges that is commonly used today. This is according to the website History of Keys.

James Sargent was another inventor who made an important contribution by being the first person to successfully invent a key-changeable combination lock.

In the 20th Century, the use of lock and keys became an explosively popular idea because, according to Brown University, during this time, a duplication device was invented. This made the production of keys simpler, faster and cheaper.

At the turn of the 21st Century, increase in technology provided a wide range of alternatives to keys. Now property such as safes could be protected and opened with digital passwords, thumbprints, voice recognition and several other methods.

Still, keys have stood the test of time and have remained a popular way of securing property. It’s likely that they will still be in use for many years to come.

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