These days, we can talk to people on the other side of the world within seconds, have takeout food, and leave home without taking all our valuables with us. Our ancestors though, never had it this easy. Taking care of the important stuff — like home security — required some ingenuity.
Discover how we got from squeaky floors and sharp sticks to closed-circuit cameras and keyless locks.
The Early Days
If you woke up a mummy and asked him to explain ancient home security systems, he'd have a lot to tell you.
Ancient Romans used intricate metal locks to stop intruders, based off of cruder wooden Egyptian models from thousands of years earlier. Ancient Japanese houses were built with purposefully squeaky floorboards, or "cricket floors," so that ninjas couldn't silently sneak in.
1500 years ago, the Iraq people of Tanzania used to dig their homes into the sides of slopes so that if the neighboring Maasai raided during the night, they'd be warned by footsteps overhead.
Ceaseless raids made Medieval Europe into a constant home security build-off, until kings were routinely surrounding themselves with drawbridges, thick walls dotted with arrow slits and "murder holes," through which guards poured boiling oil. A lot messier than an entry sensor.
Great Bells of Fire
After the Industrial Revolution, large communities began flourishing on both sides of the Atlantic. With so many people living and working together, the " Every man for himself " mentality behind earlier security measures didn't work. People used the "neighborhood watch" when they passed a "safe streets" bill that authorized citizens to go around town with a small bell at night time, to give notice of the time of night, weather and any disorder or danger. Larger cities built centralized watchtowers so that sentries could look out for fires, and warn citizens and dispatch firefighters by ringing alarm bells. This system worked well until 1835, when New York City had such a huge blaze that all the sentries rang their alarms at once, the firefighters got confused, and 700 buildings burned down. The Big Apple reorganized, and other cities followed suit. By 1851, if you left a candle too close to your curtains, someone could spot the flames and hit a button on the local "call box," and an "emergency!" telegraph with a location code would buzz over to the central lookout post, who would call in the firefighters - a central monitoring system!
Pope-ular Mechanics & Holmes Security
When it came to burglars and break-ins, people had to make do with tripwires, mousetraps, and prayers — until Augustus Pope came along. In 1853, he patented a device that wired a series of electromagnets to a large vibrating bell. You attached pairs of magnets to your door, and when someone opened the door, it closed a circuit that set off the bell. This design improved over time and mass produced and sold by a New England businessman named Edwin Holmes. When he had put in enough systems, Holmes took a leaf out of the fire brigades' book, piggy-backed off infrastructure laid down by the growing telephone companies, and established central alarm monitoring stations
Smartphones and Wireless Wonders
Today, thanks to automated home security systems, internet connections, and GSM cellular, you can leave your home and still keep an eye on it. Sensor networks can detect intrusion, sound an alarm, and alert you and your monitoring center. In addition to critical home safety, these systems are offering consumers the power to arm and disarm their systems remotely, get up-to-the-second data on any alarm activity, and even get temperature reads from inside the home. If you assign different PINs to different people in your life, your keyless lock system can even filter who's coming in and out of your home!
If the ancient Egyptians could see us now, they'd probably worship us — but we really owe it to them. No matter what your home requires, odds are there's a home security system out there for you that's more effective than a moat — and we have a world's worth of centuries and civilizations to thank for that.