A Global History of Access Control

Posted by Modern Storage Media on Nov 22, 2022 12:00:00 AM

Historians disagree about who created the first lock and key. Some say the Egyptians; others say the Greeks, Romans, Chinese…no one really knows. However, the history of access control and the locks that we use today to lock anything from chests to – you guessed it – self-storage facilities have been well documented over the last 200-plus years. There are some interesting origin stories dating back to the 1700s that have undoubtedly inspired the formation of the access control tech we use today. Keep reading to uncover the history of access control.

1784: Bramah Lock

ll start our history lesson in Yorkshire. The year is 1784. Here, Joseph Bramah invents a barrel-shaped lock that could not be picked. Joseph displayed the lock in his shop window and promised a grand prize of 200 gold coins to the first person who could pick the lock without damaging it. While everyone waited for the so-called Bramah Challenge to be defeated, this lock became the industry standard for residential doors.

1818: Chubb Detector Lock

While Bramah’s lock waited for a worthy challenger, the Chubb brothers, Charles and Jeremiah, invented the first detector lock. According to Dr. William Ashworth, a history professor at the University of Missouri – Kansa City, this lock would effectively freeze and thus alert the owner if a vandal tampered with it. Chubb locks became so well-known that they were even mentioned in two Sherlock Holmes short stories!

1851: Hobbs Becomes a Lock Picking Legend

Fast forward to 1851. London-based inventors remain the pioneers of lock technology. The Brahman family is still waiting to give away 200 gold coins (Joseph Bramah died in 1814, leaving his sons to take over the business). No one picked Chubb’s detector lock either. But then, the American locksmith Alfred Charles Hobbs arrives at the Great Exhibition – a world fair where all of the industry’s most brilliant inventors gathered.

Hobbs takes on the Bramah lock challenge. The Bramah’s allowed Hobbs to use whatever tools he wanted as long as he remained on-site. He wouldn’t earn the grand prize if the lock was dysfunctional. To everyone’s amazement, Hobbs picked the famous lock after working on it for 51 hours. Then, he successfully picked the Chubb brothers’ detector lock! Hobbs’ achievement ushers in the next wave of innovation in the access control industry as the astounded inventors discover that their locks are not

Hobbs displayed his own lock at the fair, but it was picked shortly after the Great Exhibition by Linus Yale Junior, who went on to create the pin lock.

1861: Linus Yale Jr. Invents the Pin Lock

Yale was an American inventor who became interested in lock-making mainly because his father, Linus Yale Sr., owned a lock shop. Yale inherited the shop upon his father’s death. Yale’s mission was to make a lock without a keyhole. In 1861, he invented the cylindrical pin tumble lock, which used several circular slots and a metal pin to secure valuables. He designed several types of combination locks commonly used for bank vaults at the time.

1907: Emil Henriksson Invents Rotating Disk Lock

The next notable innovation in access control came from Emil Henriksson. He was a Finnish inventor who patented the Abloy lock in 1907. This lock used several rotating disks and a key to open. For decades, the Abloy lock has been known as the lock that can’t be picked, stealing the coveted title from Joseph Bramah. The Abloy lock entered mass production in 1918.

1940s: ASSA Advances to 7-Pin Lock

About 40 years later, August Stenman, owner of the Swedish lock company, ASSA, built on Linus Yale’s cylindrical pin lock. He invented a five-pin lock and then a seven-pin lock in the 1940s. The seven-pin version became one of ASSA’s most successful products.

1970s: RFID Technology – Charles Walton

The access control industry began to advance from pin locks to RFID technology (radio frequency identification) with the help of Charles Walton. He is arguably most known for his portable radio frequency identifier, which used RFID technology and a card reader to open doors. Sound familiar? Virtually any card or chip reader today can be traced back to this invention. Interestingly, Forest Perry, a fellow IBM engineer, had only popularized the use of magnetic strips on credit cards a decade earlier.

1990s – Proximity Readers and Bluetooth

The 1990s and early 2000s ushered in the next wave of innovation in access control. Proximity readers became more advanced, Bluetooth entered the scene, and the cloud was just beginning. Companies including HID built on Walton’s RFID innovations and proximity readers became popular in the 1990s. Walton sold patents that incorporated proximity readers and pin technology in the early 2000s. Digital RFID cards with changeable access codes identified a new weakness in access control technology – the ability to be hacked! To combat this problem, encrypted card readers entered the market in the early 2000s.

Meanwhile, Jaap C Haartsen patented Bluetooth technology in 1994. His vision was to use the technology to advance the capabilities of the mobile phone. However, the smartphones we use today with Bluetooth technology didn’t enter the market for another 15 years. However, Haartsen’s contribution, along with the advancements in proximity readers, lead to the earliest forms of contactless access control.

2010 – Today: Where Access Control is Going

Today, there is a mobile app for everything, including access control. Customers want contactless experiences for grocery shopping, hotel stays, and storage access. Traditional Bluetooth has advanced to Bluetooth Low Energy, enhancing the range and efficiency of Bluetooth connections. Cloud technology enables storage owners and operators to respond to security events in real-time even if they aren’t onsite. The biometric ID methods that have become the security standard on our cell phones will
eventually enter the self-storage industry; it’s already present in wine storage! The industry has been historically slow to adopt new technologies, but the advancements in access control over the last 250 years should challenge us to think about what the future will look like and how it will create a better experience for self-storage tenants, owners, and operators.