AC Hobbs and the Impossible Locks

So. I’m taking a break from history for a bit. As pretty as they are, I’m finding very little in the way of useful developments from the Romans to Medieval locks. The really interesting stuff starts at Joseph Bramah and Jeremiah Chubb around 1850.

See, in 1770 a man named Joseph Bramah invented a lock so complex he put out a reward to anyone who could pick it. (200 Guineaus in 1770. Not a small amount).

Around the same time, Jeremiah Chubb won a government contest by inventing a lock that not only was hard to pick, but would simply stop working if it was picked wrong.

Now, anyone who knows how to pick locks knows that it’s all trial and error.  A lock that will lock you out if you push a pin up too high is a pretty incredible thing. Apparently, if you picked this lock by raking it, you would bounce the pins up against a spring that would in turn swing an arm into place which would seize the lock. There was a control key that was capable of resetting the mechanism so it wasn’t garbage after seizing, but it was impressive technology for the time.

In 1850 (51), a man named AC Hobbs came forward with the claim that he could indeed pick the Chubb lock. And he did so.

On site accounts say that it took 25 minutes for AC Hobbs to pick Chubb’s lock. Over time, Hobbs had learned that he could actually pick the Chubb lock backwards. By forcing the lock into a disabled state, but then simulated the control key by picking the lock back into a neutral position.

This allowed Hobbs to learn the exact positioning of each pin, and he was able to open the lock with a key. In 25 minutes.

Hobbs wasn’t done there, though. He went on to Challenge Bramah’s lock. While how he did it is not quite as well documented as the Chubb lock, he succeeded in 52 hours.

The story here is not that A.C. Hobbs was a talented locksmith and engineer, although he surely was. The story here is that up until this point in time the security industry could still give the impression that with the right innovation you could create absolute, unbreakable security. His is the accomplishment that continues to push security to one up itself and close the holes that are always inevitably there.

Unpickable? Doesn’t exist. Unbreakable? Not a chance. Those two words are no more than a challenge now. There is no such thing as absolute security. There is only security that suits your situation. Make things more difficult than the person beside you.

It was this situation that allowed for security to branch out, finding newer and more creative ways to secure your belongings. No one in history has built the perfect mouse trap, and no one ever will. Count on the Locksport community to continue to prove that there are flaws in every design. They will be found. And it’s a good thing, because I’d rather Locksport find them than those who want to do harm.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply