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What is the History of Keyrings?

What is the History of Keyrings?

What is the history of keyrings? That's a question that might have crossed your mind as you fumble through your assortment of keys and the trinkets or memories attached to that little ring.

You see, these everyday items hold more than just our car or house keys; they're a testament to human ingenuity and evolution.

The humble keyring (or something quite like it) has been around for centuries, evolving from ancient charms into modern collectables. But how did this evolution occur? What led us from amulets protecting mummified bodies in Ancient Egypt to cute souvenirs we pick up on holiday trips or personalised gifts for our loved ones?

In this post we will take a look at the fascinating journey of keyrings throughout history, finding out who invented keyrings, why keychains were made and where they originated.

Quick links

What is the origin of the keyring?
Ancient Egyptian talismans
The significance of good luck charms
The invention of keyrings
Samuel Harrison
Alexander Parkes
Frederick J Loudin
Recent history - 20th Century Keyrings
A History of Keyrings - Timeline
Conclusion

The Real Origin of Keyrings: lucky charms and personal trinkets

So what is the origin of the keyring? When we think about keyrings, what often comes to mind is a simple device for holding keys. However, the history of these everyday items stretches back far beyond their practical use in modern times. If we step away from their literal use and instead think of keyrings as the lucky charms or trinkets we carry, we will find a long and rich history.

In essence, humans needed keyrings long before they were used as an original keychain fastener or even associated with house, door or car keys at all.

Ancient Egyptian Bodies and Headrest Amulets Preserved

In this sense, the origins of the humble keyring can be traced back to Ancient Egypt. Back then, amulets played a crucial role in both daily life and religious practices. They served as early good luck charms believed to offer protection against evil forces.

One such charm was the headrest amulet which symbolised stability - arguably one of the oldest examples of personal trinkets which paved the way for keyring charms centuries later.

If you're interested in exploring this further, Metropolitan Museum of Art offers some fascinating insights into this part of ancient culture.

The Significance of Good Luck Charms

Examples of personal amulets and small good luck trinkets can be found throughout history, from the rabbits feet worn by the Celtics to the lucky charms carried by soldiers in World War One. Though not directly related to keys in a practical sense, there is a clear link between these objects and what we carry on our keys today.


The Invention of Keyrings

And now for the more literal invention of the keyring in the 19th century, when we begin to see examples of the key-fastening objects we use today.

Samuel Harrison’s Split Ring

Tracing back to the 19th century, Samuel Harrison revolutionised inventions with his split ring creation. This was a time when Samuel Harrison made his mark on world inventions with an ingenious device - the split ring. The purpose? To hold small objects together.

This evolution didn't happen overnight though; it required further development and refinement by subsequent inventors like Alexander Parkes who played a pivotal role in shaping our modern perception of an actual keyring.

Parkes' Contribution to Split Ring Evolution

In the latter part of the 19th century, inventor Alexander Parkes began to work on Harrison's idea. Parkes wasn't just satisfied with developing existing designs - he wanted to make them better. He introduced flexibility while ensuring durability under frequent use conditions, which are still crucial considerations when designing attractive keyrings today.

  • Fine-tuning design elements for aesthetic appeal as well as functionality,
  • Incorporating materials that could withstand constant wear-and-tear,
  • Maintaining ease-of-use despite any added complexities or enhancements.

Frederick J. Loudin's Contribution to Keyring Development and Home Security

The journey of key fasteners cannot be told without acknowledging the pioneering work by Frederick J. Loudin. Despite facing racial prejudice, he crafted the world's first practical keychain fastener in 1894 and later secured the patent. Loudin's ingenious fork-shaped device served as a key fastener and greatly enhanced home security during the challenging times of the Jim Crow era.

This invention wasn't just a breakthrough for black inventors but also marked an evolution in home security, ensuring keys were kept securely near door locks. By providing homeowners with a secure place to keep their keys close at hand, it significantly reduced instances of lost or forgotten keys: a common issue that often resulted in break-ins or robberies.

Learn more about Frederick J. Loudin's contributions here.


Recent history - 20th Century Keyrings

What we recognise as a keyring today (typically a practical fastener with a charm or token attached) came into its own in the 20th century, particularly after the end of the Second World War. All across society, things changed rapidly throughout the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s. An increase in wealth led to a boom in property development and car manufacturing, and technological developments meant easier access to travel and tourism.

Interestingly, along with all these developments, we find examples of keyrings. From tourist souvenirs to car manufacturer merchandise, different kinds of keyrings pop up throughout the 20th century. Below is a brief timeline of keyring history to take us through the decades.

A History of Keyrings - Timeline

1700 BC 

The Ancient Egyptians were believed to be the first society to carry luck symbols of their persons, one such example being a small soapstone hedgehog worn on a piece of string, now displayed in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

600 BC 

Rabbit feet were commonly carried by the Celts as good luck – talismans which are still recognised today.

19th Century AD

The practical element of keyrings (i.e. the key fastener and split ring itself) was developed through the 19th century. Keyrings we know today evolved from the ideas of Loudin, Harrison, Parkes and other 19th century inventors.

1910s - 1940s

During both world wars, soldiers often carried small keyring-like tokens on cord or chains to bring them luck, such as carved shamrocks or animal emblems.

1920s

We start to see examples of souvenir keyrings emerge for tourists, featuring famous national landmarks.

1950s

As car manufacture boomed in the 1950s, many manufacturers started offering branded keyrings to new car owners with their vehicle purchase. A similar tactic was used by estate agents trying to make an impact on clients buying new houses during this period, something which is still popular today.

1960s - 1970s

Keyrings became collectible; an increase in travel and tourism meant that collectors around the world started to form souvenir keyring collections.

1980s

Logo branded keyrings became a popular method of advertising for many companies and events.

1990s - 2000s

Novelty keyrings became increasingly popular, especially among younger ages who would use keyrings as a means of self expression. Multi-purpose gadget keyrings such as torches, tools and tape measures also became commonplace.

2010s

Personalised keyrings become popular gifts to celebrate special occasions.


Conclusion

Keyrings have a history that is both fascinating and unexpected.

Tracing their roots to Ancient Egypt, small personal charms which we now use as keyrings were once employed as protective amulets during mummification, and throughout history trinkets and talismans have been carried by people all over the world.

In the 19th century, Frederick J. Loudin revolutionised key fastening with his invention of the world's first keychain fastener - an innovation that greatly enhanced home security - and the now-universal split ring was developed by Harrison and Parkes.

As time went on, these luck charms and practical fasteners were combined, creating what we recognise as a keyring, and now have a whole host of uses, from advertising merchandise and souvenir collectibles to handy pocket gadgets, fashion accessories and personalised gifts.

 

Want to know more about the history of keys themselves? Read more on our blog.