Joseph Bramah started out by training as a cabinet maker. In 1784, after attending some lectures on lock making, he patented his first lock and in the same year set up the Bramah Locks Company at 124 Piccadilly, London.
Joseph Bramah was a true inventor in every sense of the word and patented other very notable inventions like an improved flushing toilet, bank note printing press, and a hydraulic press to name but a few. His locks were renowned to be un-pickable and tamper proof. Joseph Bramah even created what he called the ‘Challenge Lock’, displaying it in his shop window from 1790 with the notice: The artist who can make an instrument that will pick or open this lock shall receive 200 guineas the moment it is produced. Amazingly, no one was able to answer this challenge for over 60 years, until 1851, at the Great Exhibition. American locksmith Alfred Charles Hobbs took 51 hours, spread over 16 days to open the lock and even then there was some dispute over the issue. That said, he was still awarded the prize money.
Joseph Bramah died in 1814, a year after his son Timothy had joined the business and the name had changed to Bramah & Son. Around the early 1820’s, Joseph’s other two sons, Francis and Edward, also became partners in the business, now called Bramah & Sons. They were to be later joined by Joesph’s nephew, John Joseph Bramah.
By 1871, Bramah & Sons was in the ownership of J.T Needs & Co of 128 Piccadilly, London. In 1901, J.T Needs was bought out by the Whitfield Safe & Lock Company, and three years later the name was officially changed back to Bramah & Co, which still continues as a locksmith company to this day.
See our section on Bramah locks.
Bramah, Prestage & Ball
In 1836, Francis Bramah’s son, Francis junior joined up in business with John Thomas Prestage to specialise in iron and brass foundry. Branching off from the firm of Bramah & Sons, their business was named Bramah & Prestage, and shared the 124 Piccadilly address along with a further location at 25 Down Street. They were joined by locksmith William Ball around 1840, and the business name was changed to Bramah, Prestage & Ball. In addition to iron and brass foundry, they also manufactured Bramah Patent locks, dressing and travelling cases, and a wide assortment of stationery and travelling accessories.
Although Francis junior died in 1841, only a year after his father, the business continued retaining the same name.