A Look at the Evolution of Door Locking Mechanisms

A Look at the Evolution of Door Locking Mechanisms

August 16, 2021

It’s easy to take door handles and knobs for granted—it’s likely the only time you pay them any attention is when they’re not working the way they’re supposed to. But believe it or not, the door hardware you have throughout your home is the result of many years of technological advancements and security innovation.

Door lock history dates back to the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, but there’s some debate as to when the first door handles started being widely used across the United States.

Here’s a short overview of this niche piece of history!

A look into door lock history

Before we discuss the modern door handle, one must consider what came before those handles.

One of the more common options was the rim lock. Surface rim locks are fitted into a door’s surface, with a matching box in the door jamb for the lock. The lock is only operated with a key—there is no handle used to maneuver the door. This style of door locking mechanism dates back to ancient Egypt, and was often made with brass. These locks were typically reserved for wealthy, elite families, as they were quite expensive and often impractical for interior doors.

The more approachable and common type of locking mechanism was the simple door latch, often referred to as a Norfolk or Suffolk latch. This dates back to the 13th century in Europe and China. These latches were typically made from iron.

Early versions of the latch featured a wooden bar and latch string that would raise the bar from the other side. Over time, the artistry of these latches really took off, with artisans creating a wide range of designs, including arrows, hearts, diamonds and spades.

As time went on, there was a greater need for security and accessibility. The first handles that appeared were often more decorative than functional. Brass, porcelain or glass handles might be attached to surface rim locks, but they would merely be an aid for pulling the door open—they wouldn’t have any part in unlatching the door or turning any door locking mechanisms.

Somewhere along the line, that changed. According to documents from the U.S. Patent Office, there was a submission for door closing device improvements in 1878 by Osbourn Dorsey, an African-American inventor.

Little is known about Mr. Dorsey, his life and his work, but it is apparent that the U.S. approved his patent the year it was submitted. The designs he submitted for that patent included interior latches and locks controlled from the handle to keep the door in place, which was a big step in moving away from the surface rim style.

Today, you can find a wide range of knobs and handles with various security measures for both interior and exterior doors. You can find door hardware that goes with just about any architectural style, ranging from the highly decorative (and often expensive) to the very simple and inexpensive.

For assistance in procuring hardware and door locking mechanisms for the doors in your home, contact the team at Custom Door Hardware today.

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