A Timeline of the Chubb Safes Company

Chubbsafes LogoChubb Safes (now known as Chubbsafes) is one of the oldest and most well known brands of safe in the world. The company has a long and proud history stretching back to the early 1800′s.

Chubb was founded by brothers Jeremiah and Charles. In 1818, Jeremiah entered a government competition which sought a lock that could only be opened by its own key. His Detector Lock won the competition and the brothers used the reward money to start a lock making workshop in Wolverhampton. The Detector Lock became one of the most popular locks of the time, not just because of its security abilities but also because George IV is alleged to have accidentally sat on one that had its key protruding upwards.

In the 1820′s, Jeremiah moved to America, leaving Charles to run the burgeoning company by himself.

An antique Chubb safe1835: Chubb is granted a patent for its first burglar resistant safe.

1837: The company opens a safe works in London.

1838: Chubb patents the design for one of the first fire resistant safes. The basic method of building a fireproof safe remains the same to this day.

The company expands its operations again, opening a new building at Horseley Fields in Wolverhampton. Charles’ son John joins the company to assist his father.

1841: Chalres Chubb is appointed principle lock maker to the Prince Consort. Chubb locks are fitted in prisons, banks and other esteemed locations.

1846: Charles Chubb passes away.

1851: The company designs and builds a special display case to protect the the Koh-i-Noor Diamond at an exhibition at Crystal Palace. At the same exhibition, the American locksmith Alfred Charles Hobbs becomes the first to successfully pick open a Detector Lock.

1872: John Chubb passes away. His sons John Charles, George and Harry succeed him at the company.

Chubb Building, Railway Street

Chubb Building, Railway Street
(© Roger Kidd) / Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

1898: The Chubb company opens a new lock and safe works at Railway Street, Wolverhampton. This famous redbrick building remains a landmark to this day.

1908: The London safe works is closed. Workers are transferred from London to a new safe works on Wednesfield Road, Wolverhampton.

World War I: In support of the war effort, Chubb turns much of its manufacturing capability over to providing shells and ammo. At peak output, the company is constructing 4,000 shells a week. The company also supplies many safes to the military and Navy.

1938: The famous Railway Street works is closed. Workers are transferred to new expanded buildings at Wednesfield Road.

World War II: Chubb’s London offices are hit during a bombing raid. When the resulting fire is finally put out some two days later, the contents of Chubb’s basement strongrooms are found to be completely unharmed.

1950′s: The post-World War II period brings many new challenges for safe makers as men returning from war bring experience with advanced cutting tools and demolition. Chubb founds a research division to meet these challenges with new metals, construction techniques and innovations

Improvements and refinements to the blowtorch resistant ABP metal alloy used since the 1920′s make it more affordable. However, newer arc cutters can make light work of ABP, so Chubb develop a new “Anti Arc” metal. Other innovations include the Chubb Isolater, which disconnects the handle from the opening mechanism once the safe is locked. Relocking devices which seal the safe shut if triggered by a drill are also developed.

Chubb Sovereign (late 90s/early 2000s)

Chubb Sovereign (late 90s/early 2000s)

1960′s: Chubb further improve their torch resistant alloy with their TDR (torch and drill resistant) metal. This uses aluminium and also leads to a new method of constructing safes where the body is cast as a single, seamless “bell”.

Numerous mergers and acquisitions contribute to the company’s growth, and its interests spread into fire and security products such as alarms and extinguishers.

1970′s: Having grown to become one of the most successful companies in the UK, Chubb purchases the ailing Gross cash register company as part of a government deal to save jobs. The attempt to save Gross has a severe financial impact on Chubb, and they are finally forced to close the cash register company completely. Meanwhile, demand for safes is beginning to wane. Safes such as Chubb’s Sovereign (released in 1979) have become so secure that thieves increasingly prefer to target cash-in-transit. Electronic transactions and credit cards also decrease the need for high security safes.

1980′s: Chubb is bought out by Racal Electronics. The safe and lock divisions are restructured and renamed as the Chubb Safe Equipment Company and the Chubb Lock Company, each with their own management structure. Further restructuring and rebranding continues throughout the decade.

1992: Chubb and Racal demerge. The Chubb companies float on the stock exchange under the name Chubb Security PLC, which includes Chubb Fire Security (fire safety products), Chubb Alarms (burglar alarms), Chubb Locks (commercial and consumer locks), Chubb Safe Equipment Company (safes and filing cabinets) and Chubb High Security Locks (specialist locks).

Closeup of modern Chubb safes1997: Williams Holdings, owners of the Yale lock brand, purchase Chubb Security PLC. They begin to cut costs and restructure. Much safe manufacturing is outsourced to Indonesian factories where safes can be constructed to the necessary standard far more cost effectively. Many of Chubb’s UK workers lose their jobs over the following years.

2000: Williams sells the Chubb safe and lock companies and Yale locks to Assa Abloy, a Swedish lock maker. The safe division is quickly sold on to Gunnebo, another Swedish security company. The Wednesfield Road safe works is closed and much of the site is sold off. Gunnebo retain the office building for their UK sales teams.

The remaining Chubb companies split from Williams and become Chubb Fire and Security.

2003: Chubb Fire and Security is bought by the American company United Technologies (UTC).

2010 – present: Under the terms of a licensing agreement with UTC who now own the “Chubb” brand, consumer locks can no longer be sold under the Chubb name and are rebranded as Yale or Union. Owing to a similar agreement with Gunnebo, safes are manufactured under the brand “Chubbsafes”.

Today, UTC remains the owner of Chubb Fire and Security, which mainly focuses on electronic security and fire safety. Locks formerly known as Chubb locks continue to be sold under the Yale and Union names. Gunnebo manufactures safes under the Chubbsafes brand, building them to European standards in Indonesia. They retain a sales teams on the old Chubb site on Wednesfield Road, Wolverhampton. Many of the roads around Chubb’s former Wolverhampton sites are named in honour of the company and its proud history.

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