A Short History of Burglar Alarms

A Short History of Burglar Alarms

burglar alarm
  • burglar alarmThe latest state-of-the art home security systems have many features that make our lives easier, from keyless door locks to the ability to arm your alarm from your cell phone.  While these features are relatively new, the need to protect one’s home from intruders is not.  It may surprise you to learn that burglar alarms have been around in one form or another for hundreds of years, and that the modern burglar alarm was invented in 1853.  Even alarm monitoring has been around for over a century!  Today, we take quick look at the history of burglar alarms to help you better appreciate the technology you have today.

    Burglar alarms are nothing new. In one historical document from 386 B.C. it was noted that a distinguished officer was alerted to danger by the flapping wings of cackling geese. Over the years, dogs and other livestock helped protect homes against intruders, and homeowners relied on neighbors or their own family members to keep their belongings and homes safe.

    In the 18th century, an English inventor created an intrusion alert that played chimes when a skeleton key or another device was used to open a door. This let homeowners know that someone was attempting to bypass their lock. Obviously, it had its limitations. Fortunately, electricity came along in the 19th century, opening the door to new options in burglar alarms.

    Electricity Added to Burglar Alarms

    In 1853, the burglar alarm was patented by Reverend Augustus Russell Pope of Somerville, Massachusetts. This unit operated off a battery, and required an individual unit for each window or door. A few years later, Edwin Holmes bought the patent from Pope. Holmes is credited with actually manufacturing a device that was available for purchase. People were skeptical about using electricity for alarms, so the business didn’t go well. It wasn’t until Holmes started marketing his product in New York City that things took off for him. He built a network of alarms which were monitored by a central station.

    Once he established the system in New York, he sent his son back to Boston to copy it. Instead of building a separate cable system like his dad did in NYC, Holmes’ son tapped into the existing phone lines. This let him build a system connected to 700 homes. His dad then quickly copied this in NYC. Holmes, who was president of Bell Phone Company, kept the rights to use the phone lines for his alarm when he sold his interests in the phone company. As electricity became more accepted in the form of streetlights, people began accepting electrical burglar alarms. The growth of the phone system also contributed to the growth of the industry.

    Burglar Alarms in the Twentieth Century and Beyond

    In 1905, The American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T, as it is known today) bought the Holmes’ business. They began linking the system to emergency call systems to alert the police and fire to emergencies. In the twentieth century, many modifications were made to the burglar alarm. After World War II, the technology advanced even more. More people saw the benefits of being connected to emergency personnel.

    In the 1970s, motion sensors and infrared technology improved the capability of burglar alarms, but there were still many false positives until the 80s, when engineers were able to advance the system even further. Burglar alarms became standard in building security, and the technology became more affordable for homes.

    When wireless technology evolved, it revolutionized the industry of burglar alarms. Reverend Pope would hardly recognize his original invention, but he is one of those who should be thanked for his contribution to the burglar alarm. Instead of having your home protected by a lock and key, you have the capability to be connected to a wide array of services through your alarm system. Remember the pioneers who made this technology possible.