Back to Basics: Where Did the Burglar Alarm Come From?

Ever wondered where the idea for a burglar alarm came from? The history of the burglar alarm is interesting because the desire for this protection and security dates back thousands of years ago. Historian William Greer states that the idea of a burglar alarm came about “soon after we put a value on life and property and learned we could lose both suddenly and without warning by fire, stealth and force.”

As early as 386 B.C., historians noted that the Romans used geese to alert them of danger. “The intruders slipped past guards and dogs, all asleep, but the cackling of the birds and the clapping of wings awoke Marcus Manilius, a distinguished officer.”

Before any sort of modern alarm was invented, livestock or guard dogs were known to have alerted homeowners of unwelcome guests.

Early 1700s: English inventor Tildesley is credited with the first creation of an intrusion, door alarm by using a set of chimes mechanically linked to the door lock. When the intruder used a skeleton key or other device to try to open the door, the chimes would sound, alerting homeowners of the intruder. Tildesley claimed, “It would doubtless prompt him to take precipitate flight.”

Early 1850s: Boston inventor, Augustus Russell Pope, discovers how to use electricity, magnets, and a bell to create an early version of the modern burglar alarm. “It operated off of the use of a battery and was an individual unit for each window or door. The bell, which rang from an electric current streaming through a magnet causing it to vibrate, was mounted on top of the door frame into the wall. Wires ran from a spring “key” in the door/window through a circuit breaker near the bell, allowing the current to run constantly once the door/window tripped the spring.”

June 21, 1853: Pope is issued patent number 9802 for his burglar alarm device.

1856: Pope exhibits his alarm at the Fair of the Mechanics Charitable Association of Boston.


Pictured: Edwin Holmes

Sometime between mid 1857 and May of 1858: Pope becomes very ill with typhoid fever. He sells the patent to Edwin Holmes for $1,500 cash and $8,000 in notes.

May 24, 1858: Pope dies at the age of thirty nine.


Pictured: Wall St, New York, Circa 1850

1859: Holmes decides to move his burglar alarm business to New York City, “where he believed “all the country’s burglars” made their home.”

October 11, 1859: George F. Milliken is issued patent number 25,753 for improvements he made to the alarm. “He designed the alarm device to reside in the room where the homeowner sleeps or is unaware of potential thieves forcing entry. As well, he runs the wires from all windows and doors, not just one. Each door/window has a spring with a certain amount of creases that signify a specific number of rings on the bell, alerting the homeowner of the precise door/window where entry has occurred.”

In 1859, selling a burglar alarm that ran off electricity proved to be very daunting. “Electricity was misunderstood and mistrusted by the general public, not to mention many scientists. Electricity carried with it visions of danger and death; therefore the proposition of actually installing a device in a home or business that relied on electricity frightened many prospective customers.”

1861:Although the public feared electricity, Holmes aggressively advertised his product. He created a pamphlet of thirty customer testimonials and endorsements from prominent New Yorkers.

1866: Holmes’ customer base had grown to 1200.

1868: Improvements were again made to the burglar alarm. “Holmes began offering a system with a clock that would turn the alarm on and off, and a latching circuit was added so that the bell did not stop ringing without being manually reset. Zoned systems were introduced and were often housed in ornate wooden boxes along with the alarm bell.”

By 1880, electricity began to be used for street lamps, making the public more comfortable with the idea of using electricity.

1905: The American Telephone and Telegraph Company bought the Holmes Burglar business and linked it to emergency call systems for inviting police and fire fighting personnel.

1970’s: Motion sensors were introduced, implementing the technology of ultrasound waves.

1980’s: Motion sensor technology improved, implementing the infrared technology and to help avoid false positives.

1990’s: Costs of burglar alarms fall, making it affordable and economical for any home or business. Systems were integrated not only for support from safety services, but from the installation company.

Today: Different panel sizes are available to accommodate your needs, as well as hard wired and wireless systems. A landline is not even required anymore, as a system can run on a cellular signal (not a cellular phone!), for monitoring. Although, you can now remotely control your security system and receive alerts from your Smartphone.

Now that you’re an expert about the history of burglar alarms, you have to have one in your home or business, right? Give VinTech a call today for all your security needs: 773-388-1208.