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Typical Safe
Common household "safe box." This type of container provides protection against fire only, not burglary.

A safe (also called a strongbox or coffer) is a secure lockable enclosure used for securing valuable objects against theft or fire. A safe is usually a hollow cuboid or cylinder, with one face being removable or hinged to form a door. The body and door may be cast from metal (such as steel) or formed out of plastic through blow molding. Bank teller safes typically are secured to the counter, have a slit opening for dropping valuables into the safe without opening it, and a time-delay combination lock to foil thieves. One significant distinction between types of safes is whether the safe is secured to a wall or structure or if it can be moved around.


This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (January 2012)

The first known safe dates back to the 13th century BC and was found in the tomb of Pharaoh Ramesses II. It was made of wood and consisted of a locking system resembling the modern pin tumbler lock.[1]

In the 16th century, blacksmiths in southern Germany, Austria, and France first forged cash boxes in sheet iron. These sheet-iron money chests served as the models for mass-produced cash boxes in the 19th century.[2]

In the 17th century, in northern Europe, iron safes were sometimes made in the shape of a barrel, with a padlock on top.[3]

In 1835, English inventors Charles and Jeremiah Chubb in Wolverhampton, England, received a patent for a burglar-resisting safe and began a production of safes.[4] The Chubb brothers had produced locks since 1818. Chubb Locks was an independent company until 2000 when it was sold to Assa Abloy.

On November 2, 1886, inventor Henry Brown patented a "receptacle for storing and preserving papers". The container was fire retardant and accident resistant as it was made from forged metal. The box was able to be safely secured with a lock and key and also able to maintain organization by offering different slots to organize important papers.[5][6]


Specifications for safes include some or all of the following parameters:

It is often possible to open a safe without access to the key or knowledge of the combination; this activity is known as safe-cracking and is a popular theme in heist films.

A diversion safe, or hidden safe, is a safe that is made from an otherwise ordinary object such as a book, a candle, a can, or wall outlet. Valuables are placed in these hidden safes, which are themselves placed inconspicuously (for example, a book would be placed on a book shelf).

Strongbox multiple locking mechanism

Fire resistant record protection equipment consists of self-contained devices that incorporate insulated bodies, doors, drawers or lids, or non-rated multi-drawer devices housing individually rated containers that contain one or more inner compartments for storage of records. These devices are intended to provide protection to one or more types of records as evidenced by the assigned Class rating or ratings; Class 350 for paper, Class 150 for microfilm, microfiche other and photographic film and Class 125 for magnetic media and hard drives.

These types of enclosures can be rated for periods of ½-, 1-, 2- and 4-hour durations.

In addition, these enclosures may be rated for their impact resistance, should the safe fall a number of feet to a lower level or have debris fall upon it during a fire.[7]

Burglary resistant safes are rated as to their resistance to the type of tools to be used in their attack and also the duration of the attack.

Safes can also contain hardware that automatically dispenses cash or validates bills as part of an automated cash handling system.

Room-sized fireproof vaults

See also: Bank vault

For larger volumes of heat-sensitive materials, a modular room-sized vault is much more economical than purchasing and storing many fire rated safes. Typically these room-sized vaults are utilized by corporations, government agencies and off-site storage service firms. Fireproof vaults are rated up to Class 125-4 Hour for large data storage applications. These vaults utilize ceramic fiber, a high temperature industrial insulating material, as the core of their modular panel system. All components of the vault, not just the walls and roof panels, must be Class 125 rated to achieve that overall rating for the vault. This includes the door assembly (a double door is needed since there is no single Class 125 vault door available), cable penetrations, coolant line penetrations (for split HVAC systems), and air duct penetrations.

There are also Class 150 applications (such as microfilm) and Class 350 vaults for protecting valuable paper documents. Like the data-rated (Class 125) structures, these vault systems employ ceramic fiber insulation and components rated to meet or exceed the required level of protection.

In recent years room-sized Class 125 vaults have been installed to protect entire data centers. As data storage technologies migrate from tape-based storage methods to hard drives, this trend is likely to continue.[8]

Fire-resistant safes

A reinforced, fireproof cabinet for dangerous chemicals

A fire-resistant safe is a type of safe that is designed to protect its contents from high temperatures or actual fire. Fire resistant safes are usually rated by the amount of time they can withstand the extreme temperatures a fire produces, while not exceeding a set internal temperature, e.g., less than 350 °F (177 °C). Models are typically available between half-hour and four-hour durations.

In the UK the BS EN-1047 standard is set aside for data and document safes to determine their ability to withstand prolonged intense heat and impact damage.

These conditions are maintained for the duration of the test. This is usually at least 30 minutes but can extend to many hours depending on grade. Both kinds of safe are also tested for impact by dropping from a set height onto a solid surface and then tested for fire survivability once again.[9]

In the United States, both the writing of standards for fire-resistance and the actual testing of safes is performed by Underwriters Laboratories.

An in-floor safe installed in a concrete floor is very resistant to fire. However, not all floor safes are watertight and will often fill with water from fire hoses, therefore everything stored inside should be placed in either double zip lock bags, dry bags, or sealed plastic containers.

Reinforced, fireproof cabinets are also used for dangerous chemicals or flammable goods.

Wall safes

Wall safes are designed to provide hidden protection for documents and miscellaneous valuables. Adjustable depth allows the maximization of usable space when installed in different wall thicknesses. Some wall safes feature pry-resistant recessed doors with concealed hinges for anti-theft protection. A painting can be hung over a wall safe to obscure it from public view.


Main article: Safe-cracking

Safe cracking is opening a safe without a combination or key. There are many methods of safe cracking ranging from brute force methods to guessing the combination. The easiest method that can be used on many safes is "safe bouncing", which involves hitting the safe on top; this may cause the locking pin to budge, opening the safe.

UL Safe Standards

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) testing certifications are known to be some of the most rigorous and most respected in the world.[10] UL provides numerous ratings, the most common security and fire ratings as discussed below. UL ratings are the typical rating standards used for safes within the United States. They are only matched by B.T.U/VDMA certifications (Germany).[11]

Fire Ratings

UL 1 Hour Fire Label

UL provides a variety of fire rating classifications, 125, 150, and 350 representing the maximum internal temperature in degrees Fahrenheit the safe may not exceed during the test. The classifications come in durations from 1/2 hour to 4 hours in length. The safe is exposed to gradually higher temperatures depending on the duration of the test. The most common standards being the 350 one hour (1,700 degrees) and 350 two hour (1,850 degrees) ratings as the temperature paper chars is approximately 451 degrees Fahrenheit.[12]

Burglary Ratings

UL standards are one of the principal protection standards considered by North American consumers when considering purchasing a safe.[13] The time limit only includes "tools on the safe" time (measured with a stopwatch).[14] The actual test might take longer than an hour to run and can be repeated as many times as the UL staff feels is necessary to ensure that all prospective avenues of attack have been thoroughly explored.

Residential Security Containers (RSC)

This is the entry level security rating offered by Underwriters Laboratories and it has its own standard: (UL 1037).[15] The standard was originally was issued at one level that can successfully resist entry for a minimum of 5 minutes with small, common hand tools, this has now become the RSC Level I. The standard was expanded in 2016 providing a greater range of security options.[16] This standard also involves a drop test for products weighing 750 pounds or less. That aspect of the test simulates attempting to gain entry by forcibly dropping or knocking the safe to the ground.[17]

Tool-Resistant Safe (TL)

UL TL-15 Tool-Resistant Safe Label

Safes at this level are typically, but not exclusively, used for commercial applications such as jewelers and coin dealers. These ratings are granted to combination locked safes that successfully resist when attacked by two technicians with common hand tools, picking tools, mechanical or portable electric tools, grinding points, carbide drills and pressure applying devices or mechanisms. Additionally the safe must be at least 750 pounds or come with instructions for anchoring, have body walls of material equivalent to at least 1" open hearth steel with a minimum tensile strength of 50,000 P.S.I. The UL Standard for tool resistant safes and above are governed by UL Standard 687.[18][19]

Torch & Tool Resistant Safe (TRTL)

Torch, Explosive & Tool Resistant Safe (TXTL)

European safe standards

Depending on the usage, the European Committee for Standardization has published different European standards for safes. Testing and certification according to these standards should be done by an accredited certification body, e.g. European Certification Body.[21]

For fire-resistant safes the EN 1047-1 (fire resistance standard similar to the fire resistance safe standard of UL) and EN 15659 (for light fire storage units) were published.[24]


See also


  1. ^ "The History of Safes". Insafe International Limited. 18 February 2015. Archived from the original on 2020-06-30. Retrieved 2020-06-30.
  2. ^ "Sixteenth and seventeenth century money chests and cash boxes". Historical Locks. Archived from the original on 2020-06-30. Retrieved 2020-06-30.
  3. ^ Barrel Safe Archived 2022-07-11 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ "History". Archived from the original on 2010-09-09.
  5. ^ "Henry Brown". Inventors. 2011. Archived from the original on January 16, 2013. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  6. ^ Chamberlain, Gaius (November 26, 2012). "Henry Brown". The Black Inventor Online Museum. Archived from the original on July 8, 2020. Retrieved June 30, 2020.
  7. ^ "Five reasons you need a Home Safe". Archived from the original on 2017-04-20. Retrieved 2017-04-19.
  8. ^ "Protection for the Modular Data Center". Cision PRWeb. 2008-08-26. Archived from the original on 2022-03-11. Retrieved 2020-06-30.
  9. ^ Standard document: BS EN 1047-2:2000
  10. ^ "Cracking the Code: A Glimpse into UL's Burglary Testing of Safes". Underwriters Laboratories (UL). 2019-09-10. Archived from the original on 2020-06-30. Retrieved 2020-06-30.
  11. ^ "EN 1143-1, EN 1143-2 and EN 14450". Verband Deutscher Maschinen- und Anlagenbau. Archived from the original on 2020-07-01. Retrieved 2020-06-30.
  12. ^ "UL Fire Rating". Retrieved 2024-03-25.
  13. ^ sage (2018-09-11). "Understanding the New UL RSC Level II Burglary Safe Rating". Antique Sage. Retrieved 2024-03-25.
  14. ^ Meilink TL30 Safe Burglary Test at UL, retrieved 2024-03-25
  15. ^ "UL 1037: Standard for Antitheft Alarms and Devices". Underwriters Limited. 1999-02-24. Archived from the original on 2016-07-31. Retrieved 2016-07-01.
  16. ^ sage (2018-09-11). "Understanding the New UL RSC Level II Burglary Safe Rating". Antique Sage. Retrieved 2024-03-25.
  17. ^ "Residential Security Container Standard Revised". UL Solutions. Retrieved 2024-03-25.
  18. ^ "UL 687: Standard for Burglary-Resistant Safes". Underwriters Limited. 2011-07-19. Archived from the original on 2016-08-18. Retrieved 2016-07-01.
  19. ^ "UL 687 Burglary Safe". Retrieved 2024-03-25.
  20. ^ Salazar, Diet (2020-06-15). "Safes: Everything You Need to Know". Archived from the original on 2020-06-30. Retrieved 2020-06-30.
  21. ^ EN 1143-1:2012, clause 7.2
  22. ^ "CEN". Archived from the original on 2020-10-21. Retrieved 2014-04-10.
  23. ^ "CEN". Archived from the original on 2014-04-13. Retrieved 2014-04-10.
  24. ^ "EN 1047-1, EN 1047-2 and EN 15659". Archived from the original on 2014-04-13. Retrieved 2014-04-10.

Further reading