Part of effectively fixing and maintaining and observing safety with regard to garage doors is knowing how they developed. The history of the garage door is interesting in its own right and can help you get the most out of your own garage door.
Before cars people used horses, often with carriages attached, as means of personal transportation. The forerunners of the garages of today were the carriage houses of the past. These were buildings which were often separate from the house in which someone resided and which horses were housed along with the carriages they pulled. These were often fairly large buildings. They usually opened with swinging barn door type entrances.
The Advent of Automobiles
Automobiles came into mass production, spearheaded by Henry Ford, around 1914. As more and more people began to buy and own these amazingly handy new machines, there began to be a need to house them in places that were protected from weather, thieves, and other hazards. The logic step was simply to use the carriages houses people already had. However this was a problem – carriages houses were dirty and smelled of horse manure. Also horses could kick or scratch and automobile as they were heading out of the barn. Truly another solution was needed.
Early garages tended to be large structures that could house several cars at once. These were either privately owned by the automobile owner or run by businesses who stored many people’s automobiles for a fee, similar to our modern day parking garages. Many people availed themselves of these types of garages, but as the number of cars grew, these large garages were not sufficient to house all of them, and people needed a more individualized, close-to-home solution.
Thus garages began to be built as adjuncts to many houses. They could be made small or large depending on the needs and financial resources of the owners. Most were like large sheds, while a few were more elaborate.
Early Garage Doors
Garage doors in the beginning were just like shed or barn doors. Just like carriage houses (themselves descendants of barns) they had wooden swinging double doors that usually opened outward. When they were closed they were latched or locked with padlocked type locks.
There were a number of problems with these doors. They were hard to open in heavy snow, they tended to wear out quickly and come off their hinges, and they were just a plain a hassle to deal with in many ways.
A number of advances in door mechanics, taking place in the 1910s to 1920s paved the way for the basic design of the garage door as we know it today. First of all, sliding doors, which slid in tracks, were invented. Early attempts to improve on the swinging doors of garages were often designs in which garage doors slid sideways along tracks. However, this design was not optimal for smaller garages because there had to be enough wall space to the right and the left of the door opening for the doors to slide along and out of the way.
Another helpful development was the sectional folding door. The door was divided into hinged sections so that it could fold around corners. These doors could thus be shuttled out of the way around the side of the garage, rather than have to extend out straight. To some degree this took care of the problem with sliding doors on small garages.
Things really began to get cooking with the ingenuity of a man named C.G. Johnson. He invented in 1921 doors that could fold up flush with the ceiling of a garage rather than the sides, similar to out garage doors today. In 1926 Johnson also invented electric garage door openers so that these doors could open automatically. It may seem hard to believe, but automatic overhead garage doors were around in the same basic form as they are today by the mid to late 1920s.
Garage doors of this type remained in use and mostly saw only stylistic changes until the 1970s when a major change on the level of materials took place. Garage doors began to be made out of galvanized steel. These were often insulated by putting polystyrene foam in between two pieces of galvanized steel.
Hand held remote control devices had already been invented and employed with garage doors as early as the 1940s. As these came into wider use they became more of a standard. However, with their expansion came another problem: safety. It was easy for children to get hold of these devices and play with garage doors, opening and closing them or inventing games concerning running under garage doors and so forth. There began to be a statistically alarming number of child injuries and deaths as a result of this. To remedy this, legislation was passed in the early 90s requiring all garage doors to be equipped with both optical sensors and pressure sensitive sensors that made sure doors reversed when they met with an obstacle. Although there was a fine tuning period with the technology, today garage doors generally have very effective safety systems. Garage doors are thus quite safe and accidents are rare these days.
The history of the garage door has thus been more of a fine tuning and elaboration process since the late 20s. It has been a long strange trip – the quest for space economization, for convenience, and for safety all combined to power the entire invention, design, and marketing process. Today garage doors are convenient and safe entryways, but it took a fair amount of tinkering to arrive at this. So take a look at your garage door and see it in a new light now – and try to appreciate all that has gone into its development.