Bramah’s Lock

by Ellen Castelow

Over the centuries the county of Yorkshire in the north of England has produced some very famous people.

The Brontë sisters, Captain Cook the explorer, William Wilberforce and Chippendale the brilliant furniture maker, to name but a few.

But there is another Yorkshire man, a prolific inventor, who is considered a credit to his county even today, some 200 years after his death.

His name was Joseph Bramah, a farmer’s son, born in 1748. His clever invention is still used today – the Bramah Lock.

This was not his only inspiration as he also invented beer-pumps, a water closet, and a machine for numbering banknotes.

Bramah also invented the hydraulic press and a machine for producing aerated water, and suggested that the locomotion of a ship could be improved by means of ‘screws’ in 1785!

In 1773 Bramah walked the 170 miles from Yorkshire to London to seek his fortune. Things certainly started to improve when in 1784 he patented his new idea for a locking mechanism.

This lock caused a stir, as it was a revolution (intentional pun!) in safety measures.

Until this date any lock, cheap or costly, could be ‘picked’ by anyone with only a modicum of skill.

Bramah declared that his barrel-shaped lock with its 494 million possible combinations of notches was burglarproof. He was so confident that he offered a 200-guinea prize to the first person who could ‘pick-it’.

The prize went unclaimed for 67 years until an American locksmith, Alfred Charles Hobbs, finally managed to pick the lock after a month’s hard work.

Bramah's lock with Joseph's signature

Nevertheless, the design was so effective that the Bramah Lock, with certain variations on its design, is still used today.

Joseph Bramah’s signature is the trademark of the Bramah Company who manufacture locks to this day.

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