A Brief History of the gun safe and how an industry lost touch.

The gun safe industry is as American as apple pie and the wild west. Built on thick heavy US steel, glossy paint, and fancy pinstriping. Unfortunately, this industry has lost its heritage. Gone are the days of real American gun safes and the men who built them, the achievers, the men whose word was their bond. The American gun safe industry is now run by wall street, spreadsheets and analysis reports. This is a brief history and an unfortunate story.

Early Safes

Safes in one form or another have been around since the days of Julius Caesar. The first safes were used centuries ago in many cultures and nations. Egyptian vaults and treasure temples are one example. The Greeks stored a variety of valuables in safes made from bronze. Leaders in the ancient Roman empire created iron and wooden chests to store valuables.

As time went on, safes became increasingly complicated. They were not practical and were frequently cumbersome and difficult to operate. The first safes with swinging doors were manufactured in the 1700s in England.

chubb safe

It wasn’t until 1835 Charles Chubb, an English locksmith patented the first burglar-proof safe. He established a large safe-factory in London.  He died in 1845 and was succeeded in the business by his son John.  John Chubb patented various improvements in the products and grew the company significantly. Today known as Chubb Locks.

In the US, as any history buff of the mid-1800s and the turn of the century knows, safes have played an important role. Gold was king in the development of business, commerce, and outlaw gangs. But the history of safes extends far beyond Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

“Iron chests” as they were called then, were designed to protect against burglars.  They were not fit to protect against fires or other natural disasters.

In the 1820s, Jesse Delano started manufacturing safes in New York City. He created a new way of producing fireproof safes. He coated the wood foundation with a clay and lime, to render it incombustible. It was then lined in thick steel. Jesse is credited with the first US Patent for a fireproof safe design.

The First Gun Safes

The modern gun safe has its roots in the 1850s designs of Silas Herring. He used thick outer steel, plaster, and thin inner steel to create a fireproof gun storage safe.  His basic design is still used in fire safes today. Some of the materials and filler have improved to meet modern demands. But for the ultimate in fire protection double walled steel filled with plaster or cement, is still king.
Modern gun safes, unfortunately, no longer use this construction method. Gun safe manufacturers split from the rest of the safe industry in the 1980s.

delaono-herring-safe

Are gun safes no longer fireproof?

Gun safes of today are not built to Herring’s 1850 standards. To reduce costs and speed production, gun safe manufacturers have cut corners… big corners.

Silas Herring fire safe design

Modern Drywall Gun Safe Designs

In the 1970s gun, safe manufacturers dropped the Silas Herring design. They eliminated the thick outer steel; they eliminated the concrete or plaster filler. The thin inner steel became to outside of the safe. They then lined it with drywall and covered that with carpet. They claim the drywall is for fire protection. I believe it was to add weight back into the safes. There is a perception that a heavy safe is a secure safe. Weight has nothing to do with fire protection or security.

We all believe these modern safes are fireproof.  As per U.L. Laboratories Standard 72, they are not fireproof at all.  They are also not technically even safes. See Gun Safe Industry Exposed and Gun Safe Fire Rating Myths.

This move to cheaper materials and designs happened slowly and almost secretly. When the move was made to a single wall, the industry did something a bit sneaky. They no longer met the UL standard for a gun safe. They went to Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and created a new classification. These new cheaper cabinets are classed:  RSC – “Residential Security Container”. Notice the classification does not use the word “safe”. UL would not allow the word safe in the classification. Because the RSC containers do not meet the minimum performance standard to be called a safe.

Please note:
In all fairness, there are still some “real” gun safes made in America. Amsec makes a few U.L. Class TL-30  gun safes and there are some very well made custom safes available.

gun safe construction
Modern RSC (residential security container) design

Fireproof?  No

As technology advances, you would think that gun safe fire ratings would improve. Just the opposite has happened. The industry has completely moved away from fireproof gun safe production.  The U.L. RSC classification has nothing to do with fire ratings. There is no fire component to the RSC rating. A sticker on the door that says  “Fire Certified” or “Fire Tested” really means nothing.  Unless it says “UL-Class 72 350-X”, it is not a certified fireproof safe. The fire rating and tests are created and conducted by the manufacturers. They basically create a test that they can pass then put a sticker on the door that says certified fire resistant.

See “Your gun safe is NOT fireproof! Just ask any fire chief”.

Gun safe interiors.

gun safe interior

Early gun safes were designed for basic Winchesters. Rifles of the day were simple compact with iron sights. There have been many changes since then.  In recent years, we have seen great advances in rifle, shotgun, and optics technology. The modern sporting rifle (AR15) is the top-selling rifle in America. These new firearms do not fit into the old gun safe interior designs. The industry has had many years to adapt, but they haven’t.

Gun safe fail
Gun safe with 10 rifles looking full. It is rated for 30. It will never work

The gun safe industry has not changed interior design one bit. Why are they so slow and hesitant to adapt?

Military style storage

In 2016 SecureIt introduced CradleGrid to the US consumer market. Cradlegrid technology was developed under contract with US army special forces. It is a simple system by which US military forces store and organize weapons and associated gear.

US Military force modernization.

Military weapon storage
In the late 90’s the military replaced the traditional battle rifle with the modular M4. Optics and electronics were added. The result was a superior fighting force. There was also a problem, Gun racks and storage systems were designed for basic M14s and M16s. The new weapons would not properly fit.

M4 and M16
Basic M16 rifle replaced by M4 weapon system
sopmodm4
SOCOM M4 with SOPMOD Block 1 &2

The Gulf Wars created a rapid advancement in weapon technology. Things were changing so fast storage designs could not keep up. The armory storage problems came to a head when several Special Forces armories failed basic inspections. Army Special Forces Command (USASFC) put out a solicitation for an arms room assessment program. SecureIt won the contract. They spent the next 18 months working with Special Forces units and command. The task was to identify problems and make recommendations. The result was CradleGrid Technology. A simple easy to use and understand weapon storage platform. Cradlegrid had just one moving part. It can store all weapons in a military armory and provides proper storage for precision rifles with optics. Introduced in 2008 CradleGrid has completely changed the way the military thinks about weapon storage.

SecureIt Various Weapon Racks

The consumer hunting and sports shooting market has gone through similar changes. There has been a broad move to MSR style modular firearms. The basic shape of the rifle has changed. The introduction of affordable quality optics has further complicated storage. Even traditional rifles and shotguns now have scopes or red dots. Will the gun safe industry adapt to these changes? No. It does not look like they have anything in development.

The future of firearms storage has to accommodate the changes in rifle format and optics. The gun safe industry will not move. They have repeatedly demonstrated insensitivity to their consumers’ needs. They build what they want, not what is needed.

SecureIt and CradleGrid technology have taken aim at the gun safe industry. SecureIt revolutionized military armories and will do the same for home firearm storage. SecureIt has taken the leadership position in firearms storage. Things will change quickly over the next few years.  Will the traditional gun safe industry be able to catch up?

Tom Kubiniec

The Gun Storage Guru Considered the leading authority on weapon storage and armory design. Tom has designed and built weapon storage systems for all branches of the US military in all theaters of operation as well has foreign military forces in South America and the Middle East.

2 Replies to “A Brief History of the gun safe and how an industry lost touch.”

  1. I was still under the old yes concrete inner was still there was I surprised to find out its dry wall, any body want to buy a couple pretty safes ?

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