Yale: History of the Famous Locksmith

May 31, 2019

Written by Jeff Seymour

Image of Jeff Seymour at Seymour Locksmiths


The name Yale is as synonymous with locks as Hoover is with vacuum cleaners.

It’s easy to assume that locks, bolts, vaults and any other form of security are one and the same, but when it comes to securing homes and businesses, locksmiths had to work hard to become recognised. 

Despite Yale locks being part of many homes and business in Britain, the famous lock maker’s roots stem from America. 

Linus Yale had already created the cylinder lock in 1848 and went on to invent the pin tumbler lock in 1868 alongside Henry R Towne, an American engineer and businessman. 

The first iteration of the Yale business was known as the Yale Lock Manufacturing Co, before being changed to Yale & Towne later on. 

Perfecting the Pin Tumbler and Other Advancements 

Yale & Towne registered eight patents that related to the pin tumbler, safe lock, bank lock, safe door bolt vault and padlock. 

Although the modern iterations of pin tumbler locks were crafted on designs by Yale, there were design of a similar nature that dated back hundreds of years. 

The original basis for the pin tumbler stemmed from Ancient Egyptian times, where wooden iterations would be used for front doors. 

Although practical, it goes without saying that these types of locks are easy to breach, so Yale made several improvements that made their range of locks the chosen solution in relation to security. 

The name ‘pin tumbler’ is derived from the fact that the mechanism uses pins of variable length that only align when the correct key is used. 

Linus Yale JR was using the same blueprints as his father but sought to build on these foundations to offer products that could be relied on in all instances. 

Yale JR had so much confidence in the products being offered, then he openly offered $3,000 to anyone that could successfully pick a Yale lock. 

The unorthodox entrepreneur also toured the country showcasing how competitor locks could be picked, thus reinforcing Yale & Towne as a force to be reckoned with in the locksmith industry. 

The Reason Yale Gained Traction 

It’s no secret that locksmiths were a regular feature of the early 20th century, just as they are today. 

However, it was very rare for a locksmith to expand as much as Yale & Towne in such a short amount of time. 

In many instances, it would be unusual to see more than three or four employees within a locksmith company at the most. 

But Yale wasn’t just looking to offer secure locks, it was searching for innovation in the industry, which meant more and more customers invested their trust in the company. 

The good name of Yale soon spread, and it didn’t take long for the masses to realise that this was a company that could offer the security solutions they’d been searching for. 

Although locks are an integral part of any building, it’s important to remember why they’re in place. Not everything is dangerous in the world, but there are times when the general public and business need innovative security solutions. 

Reaching Out Across the Pond: Acquisitions in Europe 

The British arm of the business was introduced in the 20th century as the Yale & Towne company went from strength to strength. 

As well as manually operated chain hoists and battery-powered platform trucks, Yale also made several business acquisitions that helped the country develop roots in other countries. 

One of the British companies acquired was H&T Vaughn, a lock maker based in Willenhall that had been started in 1856 by two brothers that went on to become one of the biggest in Willenhall. 

As well as being able to cater to the European market, Yale & Towne went on to become one of the largest employers in the UK, as well as accounting for 70% of the locks created within the United Kingdom. 

This led to the classic pin tumbler lock being renamed the Yale lock due to how recognised the company had become around the world. 

As well as being synonymous in the world of locks, Yale had also become prominent in the motor industry in the first half of the 20th century. 

However, as cheaper ‘leaf tumbler’ technology had begun to take preference in the industry, Yale’s popularity in this sector soon diminished. 

There was a resurgence of popularity in the Yale brand within the motor industry during the 1960s, as the M69 window lock became a popular feature, especially in vans. 

As time went on, Yale stuck to its roots and continued to develop locks for any residential and business properties and continues to do so in the present day. 

The range of Yale locks remains as popular today as there where so many years ago, and following an acquisition by the ASSA ABLOY Group, Yale remains the company to trust in relation to locks. 

ASSA ABLOY Group itself a result of a merger between the Sweden-based ASSA and Abloy that was situated in Finland and took place in 1994 and is too a supplier of several security solutions for mature and emerging markets. 

Although there are many companies that deal with the manufacturing of locks, very few have even come close to the popularity of Yale, whether it’s in the present or in the past. 

Quality-built looks are all good and well, but it’s still important to use a professional when installing locks. 

If a lock is fitted by someone unfamiliar with the locksmith industry, then it could mean that the premised are easier to breach. 

Using a seasoned professional in partnership with a Yale lock means that both personal and commercial customers can sleep loudly at night. 





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