For every lock there is a key

Yesterday, I was standing in my kitchen, washing off the counter tops, with my very favorite dish cloth. And, out of the clear blue — and at the top of my lungs — I started singing “I’ve got a brand new pair of roller skates, you got a brand new key. I think that we should get together and try them on to see.” I had not heard this “Melanie” song for 40 years, I bet. But there it was, with me in the kitchen. Little Lou and Ollie bopping along, holding their little Bic lighters overhead.

A little later, I started thinking. Who in the holy heck invented keys and the locks to go with them? Not the roller skate kind. But the door kind.

Believe it or not, these days, keys are one of the “most commonly manufactured metal objects in the entire world.” This, according to the key people. The key experts. I believe it. Because, these days, we lock it up. All of it. We live behind locked doors. We have stuff. And we want to keep our stuff.

But truly, this has been going on for a long time. It goes all the way back to ancient Babylon and Egypt — about six thousand years ago. That is when the first locks appeared. And those keys.  Back then, locks consisted of  simple wooden devices. They used small pins which were hidden in a small opening near the bolt. The key was also wooden and it sort of looked like a toothbrush. It would fit inside and jiggle the pins.

Unfortunately, this design had some disadvantages. They were wood. And that made those locks very susceptible to brute-force attacks. Supposedly, the other downside, was that the keys were really big, and heavy. Like, that was all you could carry at once. Archeologists found the oldest examples of these ancient locks in the ruins of a palace called Khorasabad. It was located in the biblical city of Nineveh. The date? 704 BC.

From there, keys have evolved, obviously. The next step up occurred during the Ancient Roman times. Their thinkers made vast improvements. They used iron and bronze instead of wood. Stronger locks, and smaller keys. The kind a person could actually carry around with them. Right along with their Lucky Purple Rabbit’s Foot. These advancements in design changed the look of locks and keys forever. It became a thing that we know as the Skeleton Key. It stuck for a long time. Skeleton keys can be found even today. Lots of them are down in Charleston, SC, and in other houses that were built before 1940s.

And now we have those modern “flat keys” that came to us by two guys named Linus Yale, Sr. and Jr. This came about in the mid 1800s. They invented those tumbler locks. More sophisticated pins. Instant success. They were easy to manufacture, and they became the world-wide standard.

So there it is. Although, very soon I suspect, all of this will be replaced by the digital. The electronic. Codes. Face and eye recognition. Gestures. Body odors.

Well. Let’s hope it doesn’t go to body odors.

And all of this because of my roller skates. Your key. And then of course, as with everything in life, we should all get together, and try things on to see.


“Life is rather like a tin of sardines – we’re all of us looking for the key.”
― Alan Bennett


“The key to a wonderful life is to never stop wandering into wonder.”
― Suzy Kassem


“It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.”
― George Eliot, Middlemarch