History of Safes: The Evolution of a Box
The following is a guest-posting**:
A safe is a durable enclosure that is used for the purpose of protecting one’s valuables from loss, theft, or fire. The design of safes, as well as their locking mechanisms have changed and evolved many times over since their use was first put into practice. Old model safes were typically fashioned from wood, steel, or heavy cast iron and these materials were widely used until the beginning of the 21st century. The rationale behind safe construction up until this time was that the level of protection a safe could offer had more to do with the quality of the materials from which it was constructed than the actual design of the safe itself.
As new advancements in technology were made, and new facts about various metals were discovered, the way safes were manufactured underwent a permanent change. Currently, the majority of safes are made from metal alloy such as pressed steel or mild steel. These metals have a greater efficiency with regard to heat conduction. Many modern safes now have extraordinary fire resistance, up to and including resistance to explosives.
An Interesting History
There is evidence that the first safes were used over three or more centuries ago in numerous cultures and nations. Egyptian treasure temples are one example of the use of such vaults throughout history. The Greeks, as well, chose to store a variety of valuables in safes made from bronze. Powerful figures in the ancient Roman empire are said to have created iron and wooden chests in which small valuables and money could be secured.
Naturally, as time went on, the way such items were made became increasingly complicated. It is for this reason that they were sometimes not considered very practical, and were frequently cumbersome and difficult to operate. Eventually, the first safes with swinging doors were manufactured and this design, originally made by the English in the 1700s, is still used today.
The first patented safe was invented by Charles Chubb in 1835 and its design was a huge improvement over previous models with regard to burglar proofing and fire resistance. In the 1870s, Chubb applied for a patent for his newest safe called the Tee Iron model. This safe had greater fire resistant properties, and its construction made it virtually impossible for the thieves of that day to break through the back of the safe. In addition, this activity would have required sophisticated tools to which criminals had no access at that time.
Materials Used in Safe Construction throughout History
Wood was eventually abandoned as a practical material for safe construction, and attention was focused on metal as the wiser choice. Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of safe construction from a metalworker’s point of view was to create a material or blend of materials that could be formed into the appropriate shape and design when being made, while still having adequate strength to function in the desired capacity when the finished product was achieved.
Steel, which is technically a combination of iron and carbon, was the first choice of many safe crafters. However, as the manufacturing of safes became more sophisticated, safe engineers began to experiment with various combinations, and metals were mixed with other elements such as manganese. Wrought iron was soon introduced and was well able to withstand stress on many different levels. In addition, it could be manipulated into strips and plates whether hot or cold, making it a popular construction method throughout the mid 1800s. Safe makers soon began experimenting again by adding layers of other metal to the steel such as copper or Siemens steel.
In the 1900s, many advances were being made in the world of safe engineering; however, safe burglaries were nevertheless on the rise. The Secretary of the United States Treasury was instructed by Congress to appoint qualified engineers to assist in determining the overall best techniques for vault and safe construction. This was a direct result of the increasing number of safe and vault burglaries taking place in the United States. The experts commissioned to assist in this matter did extensive testing of every primary safe brand in production at that time. The conclusions reached by this special task force were not exactly reassuring. Safe construction in America was determined to be quite vulnerable to attack. Sphere shaped safes were the only models at that time to be considered burglar proof, and such safes are still seen today in federal buildings.
The results of this project made metallurgy, the science of metals and their properties, an even greater focus of safe engineers in the United States and Europe. Safe crackers have consistently presented challenges to safe manufacturers, and as a result, safe engineers have endeavored to produce materials, which stand up to the challenge of safe crackers with strength and durability. One salient fact discovered by safe manufacturers is that most metals will typically crack under continual force due to their brittle nature. This discovery was a driving principle behind 200 years of innovation and scientific research.
Components of a Modern Safe
The lock and the box are the two basic parts of a safe. The box is obviously the area in which money or valuables are stored, and the lock is the mechanism that prevents anyone other than its owner from gaining access to the safe. The box is constructed with three protective layers of metal. The outer layer is called a mild steel “skin,” and the additional layers include a hard metal plate for the purpose of protecting the lock, and a third mild steel layer to which the lock is attached. Mild steel is less likely to become brittle and crack, and it is for this reason it is used in the manufacturing of most modern safes.
The lock can be operated manually or electronically and it should offer a high level of security against safe crackers. Some safes also feature a time lock, which is a clock-operated mechanism. This type of lock features no outside connections, rather it locks and unlocks based on the time of the day, which is preprogrammed into the mechanism. Some modern safes also feature locking mechanisms, which work by reading the owner’s fingerprint.
In addition to traditional safes, one may choose to purchase a fire safe. This kind of safe is specially designed to withstand high temperatures and is primarily used to protect perishable documents. However, this safe is not the best choice with regard to burglary.
Due to advances in metal technology and lock design, most modern day safes offer an exceptional level of security. Additionally, advances in mechanical engineering, physics and chemistry have made it significantly more difficult to penetrate a safe’s outer barrier. While it is still possible to break through the locking mechanism of a safe, this too is not nearly as easy as it was at one time. It is for this reason that burglar resistant safes are one of the most popular choices for the vast majority of people seeking to protect their money and valuables.
Selecting the Best Safe
There are a wide array of designs and models from which to choose when shopping for a safe. It is wise to first determine the exact purpose for which the safe will be used, and then choose a model accordingly. Gathering information through a bit of research on and off the Internet will help in the decision making process when seeking the right safe for one’s home or business. Many descriptions and pictures are available online, and a number of units can be narrowed down to two or three possibilities. At that point, especially if making a sizable purchase, talking with a knowledgeable representative can help in selecting the right safe to meet security needs for many years to come.
**Lately, lack of time has prevented me from updating the site as often as I’d like, so I hired a couple students to do some research and keep the site from going stale for the time being.