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History of Safes: 9 Facts About This Technology and Where it Is Headed

By Maria Paiz October 23, 2023

History of Safes

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Table of Contents



As an expert in the gun safes industry, I have always been pleasantly surprised by the history of safes. Their evolution can be defined as not just an innovation in technology through the ages but also through an increase in integrity and security provision. As gun safes developed, I witnessed a revolution in how well-to-do members of society chose to protect their valuables from those with ill intent.

The earliest safe ever recorded was one used by Pharaoh Ramesses II in ancient times. About two centuries later, safes became much more common and began incorporating modern technology. They now include multiple locks, security systems, and fire protection.

We have come a long way from the older safes with simple lock mechanisms. Today, Gun safes have much more complicated locking mechanisms, resulting from technological progress. Nowadays, consumers have many more options regarding safes' appearance, safety mechanisms, and safety features.


Let’s explore the history of safes:

When Were Safes First Invented?

History of Safes Pharaoh Ramses

Pharaoh Ramesses II was the first to use a safe in ancient times. Added to his tomb, this safe was created from wood and used movable pins that would drop into the holes. This is one of the oldest known locking systems.

This was followed by Roman locking systems, allowing merchants to protect their goods while traveling. The Romans introduced a fixed lug locking system with different kinds of notches. Multiple locks made it harder for lock pickers to get in.


Who Invented the Safe?

History of Safes Blacksmiths

The history of safes dates back to the 16th century when blacksmiths in the South of Germany, France, and Austria began creating cash boxes through a sheet of iron. These were perfected to provide additional protection for cash storage in the 17th century.

By the 19th century, barrel-shaped iron safes became much more common in Europe and often came with a padlock. The reinforced rooms we see in bank vaults today, along with multiple locks in vault doors, result from designs of some of the earliest iron safes and the first standardized tests in the world.

Types of Older Safes

History of safes cannon ball safes

Here are some of the safes that were common in the past;

1. Cannonball Safes:

These safes were round and huge in size, often used to store money. They weighed over 5,000 pounds and looked quite like a cannonball. Today, these safes are known for their antique value.


2. Parlor Safes

In Victorian times, experimentation with different kinds of wood was becoming more common. This led to parlor safes that had rosewood walls and drawers. They were also one of the first portable safes.


3. Hob Nail Safes

These safes are much closer to the modern versions, with iron bodies and screw rivet joints, insulated doors, and walls. Hobnail safes also come with jigsaw locks, which are not manufactured anymore.



The Birth of the Modern Safe

• Chubb Brothers:

The modern safe owes much of its development to the Chubb brothers. In 1835, they patented their burglar-proof safe in Wolverhampton, England, and paved the way for many more inventions. The brothers had previously worked on locks, and their company stayed in the family until the year 2000, when it was sold.

• William Marr:

This inventor designed and patented the first modern-style fireproof safe by 1834. He used fire retardant materials such as alkaline salts and alum to achieve an insulating layer of steam during exposure to fire.

• Thomas Milner:

The Milner safes were also gaining popularity around the same time. In the 1830s, they introduced tin plates and sheet iron boxes, slowly transitioning to strong plate iron safes and chests.

The Early 19th Century Safes

As the years progressed, inventors such as C. J. Gayler and Jesse Delano began experimenting with materials that could provide fire resistance for longer periods.
By the late 19th century, rotary combination locks were invented, revolutionizing security. These locks were impossible to pick and incorporated a dial to achieve this effect.

This speedy progression in safe designs could be attributed to the Industrial Revolution, which acted as a catalyst for production.

How Safes Changed in the Mid-1900s

In the mid-1900s, safes became much stronger as creators began incorporating concrete, which had developed as a stronger material. Safes now had a concrete base, which added more weight to the design.

Following the First World War, safes had developed far more than their earlier counterparts. One great example is the Teikoku Bank, which survived the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The vault manufacturers advertised it as the most resistant vault of the time. Although this statement caused an uproar due to its timing (the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombing was a fresh wound, and advertising a safe was the least of the world’s concerns), it wasn’t far from the truth!

The need for safer vaults arose due to rapid development in manufacturing. By the 1950s, the Second World War had also ended, and industries were expanding faster than ever before. People had access to more jobs, money, and valuables, meaning they needed a place to store all of that safely.

Present-Day Safes

While imported safes might come at a lower price, their quality often falls short. Many use Boron-enhanced steel, which, despite improving hardenability, can affect overall durability. In contrast, the best safes utilize a chromium steel alloy known for its rust-prevention properties. When paired with double-walled construction, this material offers both longevity and enhanced security.

The importance of handgun storage goes beyond just safeguarding the firearm. Guns exposed to elements like moisture can deteriorate faster, increasing the risk of malfunctions and accidents. Additionally, a visible gun can be an invitation to burglars, posing a threat to your valuables and your household's safety. And it's not just about external threats; unsecured guns in homes, especially around children, can lead to tragic incidents. Hence, storing firearms securely is vital, ensuring they remain both out of sight and reach.


How Modern Technology Changed Safes

Modern technology has led to a revolution in security. With the option of a biometric key, people now have an easy solution to locking and unlocking their valuables with fingerprint or ocular access. Moreover, modern developments have allowed producers to create water- and fire-resistant safes.

Today, safes can withstand EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse often used by burglars to disable electronics) and also include RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags that allow for better tracking in case of a burglary. These RFID tags are microchips that can be inserted into the safe, which allows for the safe to be tracked in case of a burglary.

Moreover, locking mechanisms such as pin tumbler locks, time locks, hidden locks, and hidden keyholes provide an added layer of security. Safe manufacturers have also mastered wall thicknesses, with multiple layers of steel incorporated in the inner walls and a relocking mechanism added to the doors to protect against lock pickers.

Top Modern Safe Manufacturers

Here are three of the top modern, safe manufacturers that are making safe history as we speak:

1. American Security

American Security, also known as AMSEC, produces some of the most secure safes in the world. They have mastered the art of creating fire-resistant safes and have the greatest fire rating in the world. This is due to the high-quality materials they incorporate.


2. Hollon

Hollon has invested in some of the best safe engineers and machines to increase the quality of their safes. Quality is the most important factor for Hollon. This is what provides their safes with strength and durability. Moreover, their safes undergo extensive standardized tests and inspections before being put on the market.


3. Browning

Browning Prosteel was known in the market for its rifles. However, that was before they began creating safes. Today, Prosteel is one of the top manufacturers of safes among the numerous companies producing safes in the USA. They are known for their fire, pry-resistant material, and multiple compartments built into the door where owners can store their gun accessories.

To Sum it Up

From wooden boxes with basic locks, safes have come a long way. They're built with top-notch steel, electronic locks, and multi-directional bolts. They're not just for your firearms anymore; they guard everything - from important papers to office gear. With advancements in technology, today's safes shield your treasures from fires, floods, and thieves.

The history of safes teaches us plenty. Manufacturers have taken lessons from the past, combining them with modern tech to give us some of the toughest safes around. Think about it: today's safes are built with layers of steel to fend off burglars and have heat insulation to stand strong against fires.

Plus, with features like RFID tracking, you always know your safe's whereabouts.
Your firearms and valuables deserve the best protection. Ready to upgrade your safety game? Check out for top-of-the-line options. Your peace of mind is just a click away.


FAQ (What Readers Want to Know)


Are safes completely fire-resistant?

Your safe is only going to be fire-resistant to a certain extent. For example, the best quality safes usually consist of fire-resistant materials such as finely crushed marble to resist certain temperatures for up to an hour. However, all safes have their limitations and can only resist fire for certain periods.

Should I buy an older safe to store my valuables?

Older safes are not as durable as new ones. This is why, if possible, it is advised that you buy a new safe to store your valuables, especially if you want a biometric key. However, you can still invest in older safes if you are particularly keen on antiques or are working with a limited budget.

What if I forget the combination of my safe?

Remember that it is always a possibility that you forget the combination of the safe. This leads to your belongings being stuck for days till you find a solution. Professionals use the Crystal Palace technique to unlock your safe in such cases.

However, the Crystal Palace technique may not work on older safes, so if you forget the combination, you may have to think of an alternative! Buy an older safe only if you can take that risk.

Which safe should I buy?

There are many different kinds of modern safes in the market. Your safe's size, material, and features will depend on your needs. The more security you need, the smarter it is to upgrade to a more advanced model.

Here are some popular safe manufacturing companies you can trust:

• Liberty Safes
• Browning Safes
• Fort Knox

What certifications should I look out for to gauge the safety of my safe?

It is important to check the labels for ideal certifications before you buy a safe. A safe that has been approved by UL (Underwriter’s Laboratories *link to the company) meets safety, quality, and security standards worldwide. Check for the UL label before buying a safe.


What are some antique safes that are worth the investment?

If you are someone who likes to collect old safes, here are some antique safes you might want to check out:

• Asbestos Antique Safes
• Cannonball Bank Safes
• Antique Hobnail Safes
• Victorian Parlor Safes
• Cabinet Safes
• Antique Wall Safes


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