The Yale Pin-tumbler invention


Yale's best-known lock design is the cylinder pin-tumbler lock.

Egyptian Inspiration

Similar locks were used in ancient Egypt some 4,000 years ago, but these locks were very large (approximately 30-60 cm in length) and made of wood. The pin-tumbler design is based on a main barrel which is drilled so it has 5-6 cylinder slots that are set close together in a line. A metal pin, or "tumbler," fits closely to the walls of each of the slots. A second metal pin, or "driver," sits above the tumbler and is pushed down on the tumbler by a very small coil spring, which is permanently compressed as it sits inside the lock's enclosed case.

Image of an Ancient Egyptian wooden lock with pins, the model used by Linus Yale for his invention of the Pin Tumbler Technology, Patented June 27, 1865.

Linus Yale Jr's pin-tumbler lock was similar to that which was created by Linus Yale Sr but used a smaller, flat key with serrated edges like the ones we still use today. When inserted into the lock, the key pushes the bottom pins into the right position, which allows the user to turn the key and unlock the lock. The cylinder pin-tumbler lock with the flat key was patented in 1861.