The Early History of Chubb

You don’t have to be a trained locksmith to know something about the substantial impact Chubb has had on the world of locks and security, writes Connor Glaze

Jeremiah and Charles Chubb were born and raised in rural Hampshire. They were originally ironmongers and ship’s outfitters, who worked on dozens of ships that passed through Portsmouth during the early 19th century. Their first steps into the lock trade came somewhat as a twist of fate. The rapid urbanisation of the time across Europe had resulted in a meteoric crime increase. In 1817, a high profile burglary which was carried out in Portsmouth dockyard using false keys led the British government to organise a competition: to produce a lock that could only be opened with its own key.

Jeremiah already had some interest in lock engineering. Inspired by the earlier work of Robert Barron and Joseph Bramah, he began his own design for a four-lever lock that, if picked or tried with the wrong key, would stop working until a special, separate piece was used to reset it. You can imagine how revolutionary this feature was at the time. Jeremiah named this new development a regulator. Once the model was perfected, he presented it to the Government and claimed the £100 reward (over £10,000 in modern currency).

This new lock’s effectiveness was confirmed in a fairly bizarre test. A convict aboard one of the prison hulks docked in Portsmouth, who had been a locksmith by trade and had picked countless locks in his lifetime, was offered a free pardon from the Government and £100 from Jeremiah himself if he could pick the new Chubb model. After more than two months of trying, he was forced to admit defeat.

The move to Wolverhampton
By 1820, Charles had seen the promise in his brother’s expertise and passion and together they moved from Portsmouth to Wolverhampton and officially founded the Chubb lock company with the first of many factories on Temple Street.

Over a decade of excellent production followed and as their business grew and flourished, they moved their headquarters to St. James Square in 1836, then again to the site of the old workhouse on Railway Street in
1838.

The Chubb company gained a leap in fame from another strange bit of luck, when George IV accidentlay sat on one of their locks with the key still in it! Production and growth remained steady, and while a number of innovations came along, including the design of some of the first fireproof safes in England, the fundamental design of the detector lock remained more or less the same. This changed in 1847, when work by Jeremiah, Charles and his son John resulted in the perfection of a six-lever design.

Competition in the lock industry was extremely fierce around this time, so various challenges were made by lock manufacturers as publicity stunts. Joseph Bramah, for example, exhibited one of his designs in a shop window with the promise of 200 Guineas to anyone who could pick it. The Chubb brothers were no different and proudly boasted the superior security that came with their six-lever model. This challenge was eventually met, however, by Alfred Charles Hobbs, inventor of the protector lock, at the Grand Exhibition in 1851.

The next generation
Jeremiah and Charles eventually passed away, leaving the company in good hands. Their legacy remained in the continued growth and expansion of the Chubb brand. The company pushed further into the world through the 19th century, setting up its first American branches in the 1870s, with factories in Australia and South Africa following in the 1890s.

With the outbreak of World War I, Chubb turned almost all of its production over to the war effort, producing explosives and shrapnel, however safes were still manufactured for use in branches of the army and navy.

Much the same thing happened in World War II, after which Chubb opened factories in a further 17 countries, including Canada in the 1950s.

Chubb continued to develop and grow through the 20th century, keeping ahead of its competition from both other businesses and the developing techniques of thieves.

To this day, they remain one of the biggest names in locks and security, and with their Elite Distributor and Channel Partner awards being handed out over the past decade, they show no sign of stopping!

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