A History of Keys: From Ancient Babylon to the Transponder

history of keys

Keys have been in use since nearly 4,000 years ago, according to clay tablets that depict keys used in the Babylonian Empire. The first of these keys looked nothing like the historic keys we might imagine today. Some, in fact, may have been as long as an arm and quite heavy. No way you’d have a keychain filled with these keys.

Similar keys were used in Ancient Greece, most likely to lock temples and other structures of significance. They keys were so large that women carried them over their shoulders. You can view one of these at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston—the key that once locked and unlocked the Temple for Artemis Hemera in Arcadia.

The Beginning of Modern Keys

Where we begin to see the stirrings of modern keys was Rome. The Romans took the technology developed by the Greeks and refined it for more common use. Of course, only those with belongings to protect were concerned with locking their doors. The keys of this time resemble the skeleton keys we think of when “historic keys” some to mind, but they weren’t quite as advanced.

A Step Up in Technology

During the 6th century, European keys took another leap forward. Lever tumblers within locks were created, so keys could be even more specialized. One look at these keys, and you can see exactly how they may have preceded our modern keys. These keys also featured more decorative accents, which often featured crosses or the shape of a bishop’s miter.

Fast-Forward…Way Forward

Lock technology didn’t advance much for hundreds of years. The advancements that were made mostly occurred in England, most notably the double-tumbler lock invented by Robert Barron in 1778. Then in the 1860s, Linus Yale, Jr. of Massachusetts brought us right into the future with his cylinder lock. From that point on, lock technology grew by leaps and bounds.

While we still use some variation of the models produced by Linus Yale, Jr., we also have some technology the Ancient Greeks and Babylonians might have considered supernatural. Current transponder keys make it possible to enter and exit a vehicle without even touching the key.

And, believe it or not, Hosse & Hosse can help you with historic locks and transponder keys. The lock mechanisms from Ancient Greece are no longer in use, so we can’t help you there. However, if you’d like to repair a lock or produce a duplicate key for your home built in the 1800s, we can. We can also reproduce the transponder keys for your cars and keycards for digital commercial locks if you lose them.

That’s one of the most fascinating things about being Nashville’s locksmith and security hardware provider for 150 years. We’ve seen it all, and we can still do it all, too.