It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where the history of safes begin. Safes only began to take a similar form to what we’re used to in the early 19th or late 18th centuries. Before then people used wooden boxes bound in iron to secure their belongings (think treasure chests) which can date back over a thousand years. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that safe manufacturers really had the knowhow and materials to begin producing metal boxes resembling what we use nowadays with similar complex locking mechanisms. So, here we’ll look a little bit at the history of safes and just how they’ve come to evolve into what we see and use today.
The real start to modern safes is often attributed to English inventors Charles and Jeremiah Chubb who patented a burglar resistant safe in 1835. These brothers began their venture as locksmiths so the transition to safes was natural segway. Though this is certainly not the very first instance of a creation of a safe lockbox it may well be a case of history being written by the victors. In the 18th century most safes were made of banded wood and there was typically a more aesthetic focus to their development rather than the practical anti-burglar approach used by the Chubb brothers.
Expansion and Proliferation The initial idea for a safe lockbox eventually caught on (keep in mind most of the early development of safes is happening in England) and a number of various inventors and industrialists flocked to the opportunity and began inputting their own ideas and creations. This led to the development of a number of different safe manufacturing companies that allowed the craft to proliferate and develop stronger safes with new innovations. The Milner Safe company developed new fireproofing techniques as well as patented an unpick-able and gunpowder proof lock. A.C. Hobbs (renowned American lock-picker) developed his infamous ‘protector’ lock that would become standard in Milner’s fireproof safes for decades. The Chatwood Safe company developed the idea of using various alloys between steel plates in the body of their safes These are just a few examples of how the craft began to proliferate in the mid 19th century. Ultimately the final goal, and one that would prove most challenging, would be to develop reliable fireproofing techniques for safes.
Fireproofing It wasn’t until the 1840’s that fireproof safe began being marketed as able to withstand building fires. Milner, as previously mentioned, is credited with the first fire resistant safe in 1820’s that used an inner lining of hardwood, sawdust, and alum to create some resistance to fire but this would still need perfecting. Jesse Delano innovated upon this idea in 1825 with a composition of equal parts clay, lime, plumbago, and mica to attain some level of fire resistance. These types of small innovations would eventually lead to the super effective fire proofing techniques we use today but the story is a long one and best reserved for a topic of its own. Keep an eye out later for a more in-depth analysis of historical fire proofing innovations.