United States

Yale & Towne (1868), ILCO (1899), Lockwood Lock Co. (1888) and others.
In the mid-17th century there were few locks in the North American colonies, and those that were available were copies or lock mechanisms imported from Europe. With the foundation of the Republic and a new period of economic growth, demand soon increased for sturdy, reliable door locks, padlocks and locks for safes and bank vaults. That became the start of the American lock industry. Many Americans had their own ideas about safety, and between 1774 and 1920, American lock manufacturers patented some 3,000 varieties of locking mechanisms.

Lockwood Lock Co.
Founded in 1888 in Fitchburg, Massachusetts in the United States, the Lockwood Lock company manufactured entrance door locks and padlocks, among other things, until 1975, when the company was purchased by the Independent Lock Company (ILCO), also of Fitchburg. Later, however, in 1983, Lockwood was sold to Lloyd Matherson.

The UK

Many of the British lock companies were members of the British Cylinder Night Latch Association, which came into being in 1928. Most of them operated in Willenhall. One of them was acquired by Yale & Towne.

Examples of companies that manufactured cylinder night latches:

Beddow & Sturmey (1880), Willenhall
George Anslow (1885), Willenhall
Humphrey & John Fox (1814), Century Locks Ltd, Willenhall
Robert Jones & Co Ltd (1920), Willenhall
Arthur Shaw and Co Ltd (1809), Willenhall
Legge & Co Ltd (1881), Willenhall
H & T Vaughan, Century Locks Ltd (1869), Willenhall (Yale & Towne 1868)
Josiah Parkes & Sons Ltd (1840), UNION Works, Willenhall
Archibald Kenrick and Sons. Ltd (1786), West Bromwich


Yale’s license manufacturing in Germany
In the early 20th century, Yale & Towne acquired several established lock companies in the industrial town of Velbert, Germany, near Essen: Damm & Ladwig (1870), BKS (1889) and WILKA (1865), which later patented its own lock cylinders. Through these local businesses, Yale manufactured its own locks or fitted locally manufactured lock housings with Yale & Towne’s cylinder locks.

WILKA, Velbert
In 1865, Wilhelm Karrenberg founded a lock factory bearing his own name. In 1928 the company was converted into a limited partnership (KG), which it remained until 1989. Wilhelm Karrenberg was succeeded by his son Friedrich. When Friedrich died in the 1920s, the company changed its name to WILKA Schliesstechnik GmbH, using the first letters of the founders’ first and last name. This has been the company’s logo since then. The lock company is still active today, in its original location in Velbert.

Below are two WILKA locks from my collection; the older one, with a cast-iron housing, is from about 1930 and the newer one, made of pressed steel plate, is from about 1950. The brass knob with the logo is similar on both, as is the bottom plate and mechanism. In addition to these two locks, the company made several other varieties. WILKA also manufactured their own patented cylinders, which is indicated by the logo on the cylinders. 

BKS GmbH, Velbert
Another German-made entrance door lock in my collection, dating back to 1928 or 30, is from BKS. The company made several other varieties as well.

“Solingen BKS” stands for Boge & Kasten GmbH in Solingen. The company manufactures locks, lock systems and lock cylinders. Founded in 1889 in Solingen and 1903 in Velbert, the company belonged to the Yale & Towne Company from 1928 to 1982. Since 1983 it is a part of the Gretsch-Unitas (GU) corporate group.

Velberter Schlosshersteller Damm & Ladwig

Yale & Towne acquired the German lock manufacturer Boge & Kasten GmbH in 1928. At the same time, it acquired another large lock manufacturer, Damm & Ladwig, as well as the combined bolt and lock factories of Velbert and Heiligenhus. These companies were merged into the modern-day BKS Werk, located in the industrial area of Velbert where Damm & Ladwig once stood. Since 1983, BKS is a part of the Gretsch-Unitas (GU) corporate group, a leading manufacturer of construction supplies and security fittings for windows and doors, as well as automatic door-opening systems. The company made several other varieties of locks besides the one shown here.


In 1904, three Norwegian lock and fitting companies merged to form TRIO. In 1950, two other Norwegian lock and fitting companies merged into a company called VING. TRIO and VING merged in 1971, creating Norway’s leading lock company, TRIOVING A/S, which was acquired by Wärtsilä in 1983. Today (2011), the company is a part of the ASSA group.


The Abloy lock was invented, developed and patented in 1907 by mechanical engineer Emil Henriksson (1886–1956). He is said to have gotten the idea for the lock from the mechanism in adding machines. The lock went into large-scale production in 1918, with the foundation of the company AB Låsfabriken-Lukkotehdas OY. Just over a year later the company shortened its name to AB ABLOY OY.

In 1923 the company was acquired by Maskin och Bro AB, which 13 years later became a part of the Wärtsilä Group. The lock part of the company took the name Abloy OY in 1990. The Wärtsilä Group merged with Lohja Oy and changed its name to Metra Oy AB. In 1994, Metra founded ASSA ABLOY AB out of Abloy and ASSA AB, the lock manufacturing part of Securitas AB.


E A Næsman & Co/August Ståhlberg – Låsbolaget, Eskilstuna
Starting in the early 1880s, E A Næsman & Co/Låsbolaget, located in Eskilstuna south of Stockholm, began manufacturing entrance door locks with both the lock housing and turn-key cylinder on license from Yale & Towne. This was just about 10 years after the cylinders began being made in United States.

In those days the company was owned by August Ståhlberg (1852–1931), who bought and modernized E A Næsman’s (1846) lock company in 1881. The name was changed to E A Næsman & Co, featuring new operations, new technologies, and newly built facilities. In 1894, the business was converted into a limited company, Låsfabriksaktiebolaget (abbreviated Låsbolaget). By then the company was already making sales of a million Swedish kronor (SEK). When August died, the company passed to his son Harald (1877–1945). By 1935, the company had 175 employees and manufactured locks for a value of SEK 800,000 annually. When Harald died, his sons Gunnar and Erik took over. Since 1985, the company has been owned by Kaba in Switzerland.

Låsbolaget’s entrance door locks

Låsbolaget’s first series of entrance door locks, designed for use with cylinders, are pictured in the company’s 1883 catalog. The lock cylinder is imported from Yale & Towne in the United States, while the lock housing was manufactured under a Yale & Towne license at Låsbolaget.

The lock housing and shell were manufactured of black-lacquered cast-iron with holes for mounting on the door and frame. The lock was mounted on the inside of the door and opened from the outside with a thin key, and from the inside with a round knob (with no logo). The knob, the beveled part of the bolt and the catch that fixes the lock in unlocked position, were made of a brass alloy. The bolt was beveled to allow self-locking. The bottom plate, with the oblong opening for the spindle (which transfers the turning movement from the cylinder), was painted black.

The movement of the bolt was powered by a spiral spring. Several models were manufactured between 1883 and about 1950.

Around 1950, the shape and design of entrance door locks for cylinder locks changed. Instead of cast-iron, the lock housing is now made of pressed steel plate, spray-lacquered in a frosted dark green. The bottom plate, with an opening for the cylinder’s spindle, is attached with two screws and painted black. The lock has an oblong cast-brass knob with a double logo (two owls with their talons facing outwards). Like the older entrance door locks, there is no catch to fix the bolt in an open position, and the self-closing bolt is no longer beveled, but is semi-rounded. The bolt mechanism is nearly identical to the one used in the 1930s entrance door lock. The bolt is also controlled by the cylinder in the same way, using two springs. 

ILCO and AB Optimus
The Optimus (Latin, meaning best) company was founded in 1899 by three engineers: Peter Östberg, Carl Neiglich and Carl Böös. Initially, they made paraffin stoves and blowtorches in Östberg’s workshop on Hantverkargatan in Stockholm. His cousin Anton Tamm became president of the company and bought a large manor, Stora Vilunda, on which Optimus built its modern factory in 1907. That year a new director took over, Gilbert Otterström, who remained in that position until 1933. The factory went online in 1908, and by 1910 employed 150 people.

It wasn’t until the 1930s that locks (and storm lanterns) were introduced to the product range. They were padlocks made of pressed steel in a variety of sizes and models. They also sold imported locks. The company made its own padlocks, but it also imported some, both padlocks and door locks, from the Independent Lock Company, ILCO, with plants in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. According to their joint catalog, AB Optimus was the importer and sole seller of ILCO’s range all over the world, except for the United States and Canada. A product catalogue with Optimus’s own padlocks and ILCO’s padlocks and door locks was printed in Swedish in Stockholm in 1931.

As bicycles grew in popularity, the company also began to make bike locks of pressed steel.

With the Second World War, kerosene was rationed and exports were canceled, but the growing demand for padlocks, above all for the military, saved the company.

The plant in Upplands-Väsby closed in 1983, and manufacturing was moved to the province of Småland. Currently (2010), the company only makes camping equipment under the name Optimus International AB.

As mentioned in the introduction to this chapter, the development and sale of entrance door locks continued after 1950, but with no major changes in size, design or mechanical function.

Today’s locks and security solutions

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