padlocks attached to wires


As you are probably aware, padlocks are a portable lock made from hardened steel usually with a U-shaped shackle hinged at one end and a square body. A cylinder, pin-tumbler lock is located inside this body and opened with the correct key.


Padlocks may be something we are very familiar with today and can be found in all different shapes, colours, and sizes but despite their ingenuity and durability padlocks are, in fact, not in the slightest bit a modern creation. The padlock boasts a great history dating back to antiquity all over the world.


Let’s have a quick glance back through the years and see where this fantastic little lock originates from...


brass padlock with key attached




The Birth of The Padlock


The word padlock entered the English language sometime before 1000 AD, when livestock was held within a paddock (an enclosed area) using a lock not dissimilar from the padlock we use today. The word pad was taken from “paddock” and combined with the work “lock” to create “padlock”.


However, though padlocks have been found in excavated Viking settlements dating back centuries, travel some miles east of the UK and you will find that the use of padlocks began over a millennia before it entered our language — well before the Biblical birth of Christ.


As with everything this far back in time, neither the date nor location is entirely agreed upon. Some sources claim that 500 BC is an accurate date, but seeing as humans were forging copper and other metals long before this, particularly in parts of Asia, we cannot truly know at which date the padlock began to be used. Locks were being made for many years before the padlock, with different materials and designs. Some sources suggest the ancient Egyptians and Chinese contributed to the invention of the padlock centuries before 500 BC. Simple locks can be traced back to before 2000 BC in Egypt and Babylon.


It is safe to say that sometime before 500 BC padlocks began to resemble something similar in shape and size to the padlock we use today. By 500 BC, the padlock was being used by various civilisations around the world. That’s over 2500 years ago!



roman bronze face padlock

Roman Bronze Face Padlock dated 1st - 3rd century AD

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The Padlock as a Continental Treasure


As different civilisations began progressing their ability to create locks, different padlocks and ways of making them were passed around. Sooner or later merchants travelling Asian trading routes all began using the padlock. In the first 100 years AD, many parts of Asia — including China — had key-operated locks and sometimes even combination locks that, though not as sturdy or reliable, worked in more or less the same way as the padlock we know today. Padlocks were such a unique and practical creation that they were used by royalty and nobility and sometimes even given as gifts in decorative designs or with engraved messages.


Ancient Byzantine padlock at The British Museum

Ancient Byzantine padlock at The British Museum

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Ancient decorative padlock

Ancient decorative padlock - date unknown

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The Dark Ages Through to Today's Padlock


Unfortunately, after 300 AD the trading routes between Rome and China were disrupted and Europe became an isolated continent which then headed into the Dark Ages followed by the Middle Ages.


It was here that a variety of padlocks emerged all across Europe as different people experimented with different designs. This would continue up until the 19th century when Scandinavian style locks used the rotating disc design that is now frequently used today. (The inner discs lineup with use of a key to release the shackle.) Different shapes and sizes were experimented with and different ways of maintaining security. From long shackle locks to combination locks, the variety of padlock would then expand for years to come.

There are a huge range of padlocks today, the majority of which use this mechanism and have the square lower body and U-shaped shackle combination but can vary in weight, shape, and levels of security. We now have many different highly advanced options like All Weather Padlocks, Discus Padlocks and Closed Shackle Padlocks, as well as the Standard Brass Padlock that you’re probably most familiar with.



different types of padlocks



Need to know more about padlocks? Give E-Hardware a call on 01206 213499 or visit our website at We’ve got a wide range of different padlocks for whichever you need.