Locks have had varying degrees of effectiveness…until thieves quit trying to pick the locking mechanism itself. There are a variety of relatively easy ways to physically break a lock, usually breaking the shackle. Bolt cutters are a popular tool, along with sledge hammers and even crowbars. While bolt cutters usually can’t cut through a hardened shackle, they are vulnerable to being pried on with a large wrench or crowbar. Hardened metal is more brittle, making it easier to snap. This is what leaves semi trailers and shipping containers vulnerable to theft.

The lockbox was developed as a response to the ease with which conventional locks could be defeated. The basic lockbox design consists of a back piece that is bolted on or welded to the left container door and a right piece that is bolted on or welded to the right container door. A locking device is integrated into the outer (right-hand piece), sometimes with a removable shackle. The locking mechanism is covered in such a way that the lock cannot be accessed with a pair of bolt cutters. Even this hasn’t stopped thieves. A conventional lockbox can easily be cut or pried open with the right tools, making this once-secure solution easy to defeat.

In response to that, some shipping container companies now offer the option to install lockboxes on the containers you plan to rent or buy, which are designed to be resistant to cutting and prying. There are also aftermarket lockbox solutions available, most of which are bolt-on with flush mount or round head bolts. Some of these lockboxes have innovative designs that make it virtually impossible to cut or pry the lock loose. Even so, this may not be robust enough for you.

For those who prefer an even more secure solution, there are high-tech electronic lockboxes that will meet your needs. These lockboxes completely scrap the conventional design, opting instead to be installed inside the container with secure key remote access via RFID, wi-fi, satellite, or special cell phone app. In fact, these lockboxes are equipped with GPS so you can keep track of the location of your container, should it begin to sleepwalk at night.

What all of this means for you

Thieves will continue trying to find a way in, no matter how difficult the task may be. Perhaps it’s the challenge of defeating ever more sophisticated locking devices and technology. Regardless, it is important for you to be able to adequately secure your container, whether it’s your lawnmower and some gardening tools, or high-value inventory. Today’s lockboxes provide you with the level of security that is best for you and your business.

Where do locks originate?

For nearly as long as there have been thieves, there have been locks. Locks go back at least 4,000 years, with the oldest known lock being found in the ruins of Khorsabad in Iraq. This lock was made out of wood, using a pin tumbler inside the bolt. When the pins were raised by the key, the bolt would slide out, allowing the door to be opened. While the original design of the pin tumbler may seem primitive by today’s standards, pin tumblers are still in widespread use, albeit with a much more sophisticated mechanism.

Much like today (in theory, anyway), only those who possessed the keys were allowed access. During the Roman Empire, the affluent kept their valuables in locked boxes, wearing the tiny keys on a finger ring. This ring served as a convenient way to keep track of keys and as a symbol of a Roman’s wealth.

Somewhere between 780 and 900 A.D., the all-metal lock was invented, possibly crafted by Englishmen. While these locks became quite ornate, their internal design would remain unchanged for a total of 1,700 years. This in spite of the fact that most locks could easily be picked.

Locks of the Industrial Revolution

During the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th century, precision engineering developed along with component standardization, making it possible to manufacture locks and keys with increasing complexity and sophistication. One innovator, Robert Barron, invented the lever tumbler lock. This lock required a lever to be moved to a certain height in order for the lock to open. The old skeleton key in your grandfather’s desk probably went to a lever tumbler lock. While this lock was an improvement, it still wasn’t all that secure.

Enter Jeremiah Chubb. After a burglary in the Portsmouth Dockyard, the British Government announced a competition to design a lock that could only be opened with its own key. Jeremiah developed the Chubb Detector Lock with an integrated security feature that not only thwarted unauthorized access, but indicated that the lock had been tampered with. While a great improvement in lock design, it would be Joseph Bramah who would make a lock that was virtually impossible to pick.

Joseph Bramah was a prolific inventor who, in 1784, set out to make a new kind of lock. His lock used a cylindrical key with precise notches on it. Theses notches moved metal slides into perfect alignment with the bolt, allowing the lock to be opened. Bramah claimed the lock unpickable, dubbing it the Challenge Lock. In 1790, he put the lock on display in his shop window, with a reward of £200 payable to the person who could pick it. It wasn’t until the Great Exhibition of 1851 that an American locksmith by the name of Alfred Charles Hobbs defeated the lock after 51 hours, spread out over the course of 16 days. Put another way, the lock challenge stood for 61 years.

Going back to 1848, Linus Yale, Sr. re-invented the pin tumbler lock, a sophisticated improvement upon the primitive Egyptian pin tumbler design. Yale’s pin tumbler uses pins of varying lengths to prevent the lock from opening unless you’re using the correct key.

To this day, virtually all locks with physical keys are based on the work of Bramah, Chubb, and Yale.