The History of Safes – Centuries of Security

For as long as there have been people there has been theft. Nobody likes it, but it’s something that we just have to live with. People will covet what they do not have, and some of them will act on that feeling. So we have to protect our property. In ancient times, security mostly came down to locks on intricate chests of metal or wood. It was not until recent centuries, however, that the safe came into common use.

The Advent of the Modern Safe

In the early 1800s we begin to see safes come into view that look like what we all recognize today as a modern safe. Before this time, people generally kept their valuables in locked vaults or sea chests like you see in pirate movies. These safes, also called iron chests, did a good job as they were heavy enough that burglars could not easily make off with them so they could try to break them form a safer location. They were often made not only of metal, but also heavy materials such as:

  • Stone
  • Wood
  • Cement
  • Plaster
  • Brick
  • Mica
  • Chalk
  • Clay

These early safes did a good job of protecting against burglary, but they were not fireproof. Around 1820, asbestos, alum, plaster of Paris, and sawdust began to see usage in safes to make them more fireproof, but it wasn’t until around 1840 that a safe was created that could actually survive a full-scale house fire.

Soon thereafter, safes were made in greater numbers were seen in use in banks and offices all across the world. The focus on safes at this time was on making sure that they were fireproof, and the term “Salamander” was coined to describe a truly fireproof safe (in ancient myth, salamanders were thought to be fireproof).

Truly effective safes were all the rage in the financial industry and with well-to-do clients, so there was a rash of patents and trading going on in the early days of the industry. After it all shook out, there were just a few people holding the entire safe industry in their hands.

The Safes of Today

As decades went by, safes were always improved upon but remained relatively the same. Of course, one has to mention that with the creation of safes came the creation of safe cracking. Instead of trying to steal an enormously heavy safe full of money and other valuables, criminals came up with clever ways of picking the lock, deciphering the combination, or actually cracking open the safe.

To combat this, safe manufacturers were constantly coming up with ways to combat the latest safe cracking techniques. As a result, the safes of today are virtually impenetrable. There will always be a handful of safe crackers out there that can get in, of course, but in general modern safes are just too much for most criminals to deal with. They cannot fathom the materials and electronic security features that go into the modern safe. There are safes these days protected by fingerprint identification, voice identification, and even retinal identification. It is truly amazing to see how far we’ve come in just two centuries of safe manufacturing.

About the Author

Richard Hoppers and his wife, Suzanne, live in North Texas. He enjoys backpacking with family and friends in southwestern Colorado in the rugged Weminuche Wilderness Area. Richard is very knowledgeable about residential and business safes and their uses and applications. With all of the bank consolidations and closings over the last few years, more people have turned to providing their own security for their valuables and documents, so Richard has turned his attention towards helping others gain more knowledge about residential safes. Visit his site for information on Gardall safes and FireKing safes.

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