Notes From The Editor: Looking Into The Crystal Ball

Decades ago when I started my locksmithing career, there was never a thought of what the future would bring. Pin tumbler locks had been in existence for a century.  I bought Segal jimmyproof locks by the case.  Mortise lock cylinders using a Chicago Ace...


Decades ago when I started my locksmithing career, there was never a thought of what the future would bring. Pin tumbler locks had been in existence for a century.  I bought Segal jimmyproof locks by the case.  Mortise lock cylinders using a Chicago Ace tubular key were the best available high security key systems.  Packing and filling pot-style door closers was a very lucrative business.  A stock of ten different types of key blanks covered 98% of my automotive work. My pinning kit consisted of a bread pan filled with old tumblers. Old pin tumblers were reused and filed down to the shearline. Every car dealer in town depended on me for all of their automotive lock work.  Electronic access control consisted of replacing defective electric strikes. Duplicating flat steel mailbox keys was big business.  There were dozens of different lock manufacturers such as Sager, Welch, Lockwood, Clinton, Eagle & Penn.  Every one of them used different dimensions.  As a result, locksmiths had to be prepared to either repair the old ones and keep them going or remortise the door to accept a new sized lockset.

My father and grandfather had both been in the locksmith business before me.  I began my career by learning from them and expecting to continue the handcraft traditions they had started.  But this was not to be.  Soon after I began working as a locksmith, people like Frank Agius began measuring keys; LAB introduced pin kits with graduated pin lengths and HPC displayed their first 1200 code machine.  ANSI specs normalized dimensions of lock hardware.  New hardware designs, as example with door closers, were primarily made to be replaced instead of being repaired.  VIN numbers were an important new factor in the automotive world.  

Within a period between 1970 and 1990 the locksmith business changed like it had never changed before.  Craftsmanship was slowly replaced by technology.  There was less repairing and more replacing. This is good for manufacturers but the skills developed by old-time locksmiths were less required.

The result of all this is that a new type of security industry is emerging.  Successful people today are those skilled at sales and marketing and less dependent on handiwork and labor.  The public is being inundated with electronic devices and it follows that they are being trained to also expect electronic items for their security applications.  There are millions of doors equipped with traditional locking systems in this country and every one of those doors is a sale of electronic security waiting to happen.

One thing is for sure.  There will never be another time when locksmithing can be easily handed down from father to son.  This business continues to change so rapidly that old habits from even five years ago are no longer valid.   The keys of the future will not wear a hole in your pocket.   It will be interesting to see what that key of the future will be. Check back in five years.      

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