History Of Safes – Part Three: The French Revolution and Safecrackers

In our last instalment, we focussed on safes in the medieval era. The medieval safes were heavy and cumbersome that had lost lots of functionality through ornate locks and beautiful decoration. From these impractical but stunningly designed safes, we then move to Paris and a rather surprising locksmith.

When we consider safe makers, the first thought that comes to mind certainly isn’t royalty, but a king has certainly played a part in transforming a change in safe design with a lesson to be learnt! King Louis XVI was the husband of Marie Antoinette and had a surprising locksmith talent. King Louis XVI was a mechanics enthusiast and was passionate about learning how things worked and making them better.

The king even had a master skill of forging metal and use his knowledge to create himself a safe. The security box was made out of iron, and the King forged the lock and key himself. The safe was very impressive, built with mechanic knowledge, skill and metal mastery. However, King Louis XVI had forgotten the one key rule about a safe, which is never tell anyone that you have one. The king revealed to a friend he had built a security cabinet into the wall. The safe was found to contain incriminating information, and as a result, the king paid for revealing his secret safe, with his head. Ouch.

From France, we move to 19th Century England where the industrial production of security cabinets began. These safes were still secured with keys; however, the level of security was hampered by safecrackers (burglars) who increased their skill with the growth of security. These safecrackers found ways to open the locks with crowbars and other tools or for particular difficult safes; they used gunpowder in the keyhole to blow the door open. This meant it was back to the drawing board for safe designers, who had to find a new method of keeping customer belongings secure. Enter the dial plate, where locks were replaced with locking keys. The dial plate consisted of several rotating disks. These rotating disks were given the safe code. However, as the technology increased so did the skill of the safecrackers. Often seen in films, safecrackers would put their ear to a safe and as if by magic, the safe would open.

This actually did work as you could hear a noticeable click when the dial was on the right number, making it easy to crack to code and gain entry. In the next instalment, we will look at how dial safes progressed into the modern-day safes we know today.