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The History of the Garage Door – Part I of II

By Blog Master on 01 Aug 2013 In

Everyone knows that the wheel, along with fire, ranks as one of mankind’s greatest inventions, or some might say discoveries.  In fact in 1,274 B.C., wheeled chariots played a decisive role in the Battle of Kadesh, history’s first recorded mega-conflict, involving the Egyptian and Hittite superpowers.  Although military scholars assess this conflict as a stalemate, the importance of wheeled inventions, for military, commercial and domestic use became clear.

Ancient Chariot

So it’s not surprising that since ancient times, we’ve looked for better ways of protecting these precious rolling assets, both from the elements as well as the prying eyes of envious neighbors.  In fact garage doors date back to at least 450 BC when chariots were housed in protective gated shelters.

But it wasn’t until many centuries later, when Americans first began their love affair with the automobile, that the advent of modern garage door technology flourished.  The term “garage” was first used in 1902 and is a derivate of the French verb “garer”, which literally means “to shelter”.  In America, the accent of the word “garage” is placed on the second syllable, whereas in Briton and most other English speaking countries, the accent is on the first syllable.

Carriage Houses

As early as 1902, manufacturers such as the Cornell Iron Works offered car owners a “float over door” that would protect early carriage houses (detached structures used for housing a horse-drawn carriage and sometimes the horse) and their human occupants against the elements. But long before the more modern style of garage door was invented, carriage houses did the work of modern day garages.

In the early 20th century, it wasn’t far-fetched to house your car with your horse and buggy. Simple out-swing barn doors housed everything from the stable supplies to gasoline. And as those two smells between horse and machine began to mix, it was evident that each needed their own area for storage. Car owners in those times were generally well-healed and did not want their precious vehicle being tainted by the unpleasant odor of horse manure. That’s when the first mass parking garages came into being.

Parking Garage Doors

Since people figured they stored more than one horse in a barn, it stood to reason that they could store more than one car in a garage as well. So wily entrepreneurs invented mass public parking garages.  They became all the rage and offered a number of advantages.  People could store their cars in a heated, regularly cleaned garage—with all of the other cars in town.

Some rather large garages were built in cities, but these fell out of favor around 1910 because there just weren’t enough garages for the growing supply of automobiles, since in those days, parking garages were single story structures.  Furthermore, they required a walk or ride of some distance to access the vehicle which defeated the fundamental advantage of the automobile in the first place.  Furthermore, at $15 to $20 per month in early 1900s dollars, they were not exactly cheap enough for the masses.

Classic Car

The First Home Garages

As more and more Americans sold off their horses and bought a new car, the carriage house became a relic from the past and was often transformed into a garage or shelter for their new gasoline powered vehicles. Cars were being stored in them now and the way they were built changed as a consequence. The first garages were really just glorified sheds that had a double door on the front to allow the car to enter and exit the garage freely. But the problem was that it wasn’t too freely.

Large outward swinging barn doors worked great during the calmest of days, but what happened when adverse weather conditions prevailed? According to Tom Norman of Overhead Door Company of Central Jersey “Early automobile barn style doors would blow shut on the car when it was windy, would be hard to open and close in the snow and couldn’t be weather sealed against the rain”. No wonder it didn’t take long to come up with a suitable replacement.

To Be Continued in Part II….

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