Sunday, August 25, 2013

From Key to Key Card

Ever wonder why keys were created?
Well, once people had stuff, they wanted to protect it.
The first keys (and their locks) appeared over five thousand years ago in ancient Assyria and Egypt. They were large, cumbersome, and made of natural materials, particularly wood. These were not the best keys for protecting peoples’ goods, but they did help signal whether an actual or attempted theft had occurred. Made of iron and bronze, ancient Roman keys were smaller and sturdier than early wood ones, yet they were still not the perfect safeguard. Worn on a string or on a person’s finger, these keys symbolized wealth more than anything else. 
Ancient Assyrian Key & Lock
Keys’ function as status symbols continued throughout the Medieval period, while the amount of ornamentation on them increased. The bows (the part of the key you hold) became especially ornate to resemble the intricate rose and stained glass windows in cathedrals. It wasn't until the 1800s that inventors, especially Linus Yale Sr. and Jr., created the modern tumbler locks and the “flat keys” we use today.
Or rather, the keys we used to use.
All season long during my time in the Key Room, visitors have commented on our hotel key collections. They especially comment on the Epperson’s stunning set of international keys from their adventures as a married couple. These keys in particular were donated in October 2006 by their son, Peter Epperson, after both John and Stella passed away. Although these are worth discussing, visitors’ comments usually relate to the fact metal hotel keys are rapidly approaching extinction.
Epperson's Hotel Key Collection

Plastic key cards were invented in 1975 by Tor Sornes and were specifically designed for use in hotels. These keys operated through different combinations of thirty-two holes in the card. Later the holes were replaced with a magnetic strip. These quickly became the most popular form of key in the hotel industry around the world. With every new guest, key cards are reprogrammed to include information like the guest’s name and room number. Another advantage of key cards is they usually deactivate after checkout, eliminating the need to track down lost keys.
One of the most recent innovations in key cards is the RFID (radio frequency identification) card. As the name suggests, this type of key card uses a specific radio frequency instead of a magnetic strip to open locks. This type does not have to be swiped like the magnetic strip key cards, so it is held in front of the lock instead.
Donated Key Cards
To keep with our rustic roots, The Baldpate still uses ‘old-fashioned’ flat keys to unlock guest rooms, and our Key Room will always feature the metal keys previously used to by other hotels. Come by before the season’s over to see these keys that may soon be relegated to history!

Key Room Museum Curator