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The Evolution of Home Security Systems

Posted: March 31, 2014

Home security has been used throughout recorded history, though available technology did not always offer adequate solutions.

However, humankind persevered, and security devices evolved from ancient times through today, when technological advances occur frequently, making systems more effective and affordable. Here's a look back at home security systems in history.

Locks from Ancient Times through Today

The ruins of the ancient city of Nineveh yielded up the earliest known lock and key, which was believed to have secured a palace door. Later on, in ancient Egypt, wooden pin locks were developed, consisting of three components: door fixture, bolt and key. When the key was inserted into the fixture, pins were lifted through drilled holes inside the bolt, allowing it to open. When the key was removed, pins fell back into the bolt, preventing it from moving.

Lever tumbler locks were invented in 18th century Europe. They used a set of levers to keep the bolt from moving in the lock. Double-acting lever locks were invented in 1778 by an Englishman named Robert Barron. With these, slots cut in the lever meant lifting the lever too far prevented the lock from opening, as did not lifting the lever far enough. Double-acting lever locks are still in use today. The lock—particularly the deadbolt lock—is still a staple of home security because of its effectiveness coupled with relatively low cost.


Towers, Gates, Drawbridges and Moats

Medieval home security was physical home security, and was mostly limited to the homes of the titled and wealthy. Though expensive and unwieldy, a moat and drawbridge was effective at keeping out intruders. In fact, the towers, gates and other security measures built into castles worked quite well, at least until the invention of cannons, when breaching castle walls became significantly easier.

pope's alarm

Mr. Pope's Bell Alarms

A Massachussetts man named Augustus R. Pope obtained the first patent on an electromagnetic security system that sounded a loud bell when a secured window or door was opened. Businesses and the wealthy used Pope's designs in their security systems, which involved magnetic contacts installed on windows and doors. When a window or door was opened, a signal was automatically sent through the wiring to sound the alarm. The main problem with Mr. Pope's alarms was they could be shut off quickly by simply closing the window or door. But they did work well as deterrents.


Edward A. Calahan's Telegraph-Monitored Alarms

Edward A. Calahan invented ticker tape as well as stock tickers, and he created the first monitored alarm system back in 1871. Unlike today's monitored systems, which use phone lines and the internet, Calahan's systems were monitored by telegraph, and he even created a central monitoring station to track alarms. Calahan was ahead of his time in many ways, because today's monitored home security systems, while using far more advanced communications, work on the same principles as Calahan's telegraph-monitored system.


Ms. Brown's Hidden Closed Circuit TV System

Marie Van Brittan Brown, who lived from 1922 to 1999, earned a patent for the first closed circuit television security system in 1969. Her system consisted of four peep holes and a camera that was able to slide up and down, looking through each one. Whatever the camera picked up would be transmitted to a video monitor. Not only that, the owner of such a system could use a remote control to unlatch the door! Though her system did not achieve commercial success, Ms. Brown was a visionary who understood the American homeowner quite well.

modern home security

Today's Monitored Home Security Systems

The monitored home security systems of today are used in conjunction with robust physical security, particularly deadbolts. Monitored around the clock by remote monitoring centers, today's systems—which include infrared motion detectors as well as sensors on windows and doors—notify the homeowner (and if necessary, emergency responders, whose prompt arrival often stops an intrusion). Today's monitored home alarm systems also have a strong deterrent effect, making homes without monitored security systems up to three times more likely to be burglarized than those with systems. Technological advances aren't slowing down, and it's likely that a decade from now, even more advanced home security system features will be widely available.