The exact history of the word ‘padlock’ is uncertain. Some believe that the word ‘pad’ means gate, and that this suggests these locks were primarily used on gates initially (as they often are to this day). Pad could also mean to walk on foot, and this could also stem from the idea that these locks were primarily used on gates, and these gates would lead to a path to walk along.
In Britain, the word pad is also synonymous with pannier, so it could be that these locks were initially used by merchants to secure goods on their horses. Finally, one theory suggests that the word was coined by Vikings who used the locks to secure their paddocks.
The oldest known padlocks are Roman and date back to 500 BCE. They wouldn’t have looked much like the padlocks we recognise today, however. The most common type of Roman padlock had a rectangular body that has an attached metal pole and a separate shackle.
Padlocks slowly spread around the world because of trade routes. By 25AD padlocks were commonly used in China and were often made of bronze instead of iron, like their Roman counterparts.
Padlocks also became popular in Britain after the Vikings bought them over, and became increasingly used on smokehouses which were used to store food. It was important to keep the food safe from both animals and other humans.
Skipping forward to the 1800s, a Swedish inventor called Christopher Polhem invented what has since been dubbed the Scandinavian Padlock. Locks around this time started to take a form that’d be more familiar to us now. Next came the cast heart padlock which looks even more recognisable and can be seen here on the right.
Yale are now probably the most famous lock manufacturers in the world, and they have a long history in security. They are credited with creating the pin and tumbler cartridge which changed locks forever. It was the rise of electricity and machining which made the manufacturing of locks a far more financially viable pursuit, and it gave rise to the modular locking mechanisms we know today.
You can bet your house that the evolution of the padlock hasn’t reached its conclusion. With advances in technology, we could soon see digital padlocks becoming more popular, using different unlocking methods such as fingerprint readers, or even iris scanners to keep items even more secure. Where the humble padlock will be in a decade or two is anyone’s guess.