A Short History Of Safes (From 13BC)

One of the earliest known records in the history of safes comes from 13BC, where the first safe was constructed using a wooden structure with some simple pins that dropped into holes that would keep the contents secure.

While it can’t be compared to modern day safes, it’s interesting to know that such a product was thought about all those years ago.

Thankfully, we’ve come a long way in the intervening years, with safes now made to withstand fire, explosions and even in some cases, trains being ploughed into them!

This article briefly details just how far safes have come, and how, along with technological advances, our safes can withstand even the most vigorous of assaults and can keep our money, possessions and valuables safe and secure.

History Of Safes – Up to 1800’s

As I mentioned, the first known single production of a safe was way back in 13BC. So even thousands of years ago, in the times of the Ancient Romans, people were genuinely concerned about keeping possessions safe and secure, and adding an extra layer of protection against theft and damage.

It’s amazing to think what sort of possessions they may have been protecting all those years ago, and just how far the modern safe has come in that time.

Back then, safes were made exclusively using carefully carved, thick wood. They were strictly for the elite and ruling class, and although they were designed as a safe, their merit was also celebrated on an artistic scale – many were decorated and made into beautiful pieces of furniture.

Although looking at this fact now, it may seem ridiculous to think of a safe being made out of wood, you have to remember that back in these bygone days, they had no power tools or anything like that, so a wooden safe actually had a lot of protection for its contents.

Although locking mechanisms and systems were relatively simple, and not at all difficult to get into for a skilled lockpicker, many were made with diversion tactics built in. Many safes had diversion tactics designed to trick any potential lock picker, such as fake key holes, multiple key holes, and even hidden keyholes.

They were designed really with one intent: to delay and frustrate any would be thief.

Charles & Jeremiah Chubb – 1818

You will have probably come across the name ‘Chubb’ before. Walk down any street in the UK and take a look at any property which has a burglar alarm installed, and you’ll probably see the name ‘Chubb‘ printed on it.

history of safes, safes uk

Chubb is now a leading company in the UK who primarily deal with safety and security aspects and design of residential and commercial porperty. They supply and manage fire and access control systems, fire and security equipment amongst many other things, and have been around since 1818.

And it was in 1818, that enterprising brothers Charles & Jeremiah Chubb, who were ironmongers, saw an opportunity and went ahead and designed an ‘unpickable’ lock as part of a government competition. This was in direct response to spiralling crime rates. The industrial revolution sparked a new era, and with that new era came new problems – most notably the rise of crime.

Focussing on this, the brothers came up with a lock called ‘The Detector Lock’, which was essentially a way of securing doors, chests and bookcases.

It was the first of a kind because the lock had a very special feature indeed – if someone without the correct key tried to gain access, the lock would jam shut and the property owner would know that somebody had attempted to gain unauthorised access. To unjam it, the correct key would need to be inserted, and turned fully in one direction to release the jam, and then in the correct direction to then unlock it.

Below is an excellent example of this lock in action.

This detector lock was patented in 1824, but it wasn’t for another 17 years in 1835, that the brothers came up with their idea for a secure, burglar resistant safe.

Burglar Resistant Safe – 1835

Ever the entrepreneurs, the brothers didn’t stop at the lock.

history of safes old safe

They saw a real need to go beyond a lock, and went about designing, creating and manufacturing a box that was burglar resistant. Using their skills as ironmongers, they created a safe made out of iron, with an incorporated locking mechanism.

The safe was produced mainly for businesses who want to store cash and valuables on the premises, giving them an extra layer of protection against theft and burglary.

Fire Proof Safe – 1837

Soon after, in 1837, they began mass producing safes in factory conditions, rolling out quality safes for those that could afford them.

It’s here where details become sketchy when it comes to fire proof safes. An inventor by the name of William Marr is one of a few who patented a fire proof safe in this era, using crushed clay and marble as a shield against potential fires within the construction of a safe. In 1839, the Chubb brothers also patented their next invention – the fire proof safe.

This concept was especially needed in these times; with the industrial revolution in full motion, fires became a massive problem.

History Of Safes – 1837 -1950

With ownership changing hands within the Chubb family over this period, new manufacturing methods and better tooling and materials available, companies like Chubb went from strength to strength, and entered territories such as South Africa.

Safes began to become more and more affordable for the general population, and manufacturing processes and thinking went from a safe needing to be decorative and artistic, to solid and secure.

It was really in this era that the idea of a safe really took off – people really saw the benefit of owning a safe, including banks, wholesalers, traders, factories and merchants.

Demand grew, and so did competition, with many new companies entering the arena and positioning themselves as safe manufacturers.

History Of Safes -1950 – Present

In this period of the history of safes, Chubb really became a household name, and started acquiring several companies. They also branched out into all sorts of fields such as home security, vaults and commercial products designed to keep homes and businesses safe, such as the burglar alarm.

In 2000, they were themselves bought out by the Gunnebo Security Group, and were introduced to new and developing markets in China and Europe.

Steel also became the standard material, due to it’s flexibility in the manufacturing process followed by it’s durability and strength against would be attack.

More accountability was also brought into the process of safe production, and safe manufacturers were encouraged to test and certify their safes to certain standards, giving the industry a basic set of standards to work to when producing a safe.

This also made it easier for buyers of safes to understand the ability and levels of protection a safe would afford them.

International standard testing was brought in, and safes were graded on their ability to ward off attack with things like Eurograde ratings and cash ratings being brought in.

These days, a good, solid home safe can be bought for a relatively low sum of money, and can be an extra layer of security when all else fails.

Questions & Comments

I’d love to hear your opinion on the history of safes, so just leave me a question or comment below, and I’ll be sure to get back to you!

Stay Safe. Stay Secure.


My name is Richard.

I'm 40 years old. And I have nearly 20 years experience in various safety and security industries.

I'm here for you, sharing all my knowledge and experience to help you create a safe and secure home for you and your family.

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