The origins of the garage door are difficult to trace.
If you consider early chariot gatehouses to be garages, then the earliest doors date to around 450 BC. These early doors were used to shelter chariots when they weren’t being used in sport or war, and functioned very similarly to barn doors.
Romans used their chariots for carrying archers around the battlefield and to transport their leaders, and perhaps more often for sports like hunting and racing. The invention of the spoked wheel made chariots possible as early as 2000 BC, and chariot races were still popular through the 6th century.
Of course, some people might say that the first garage doors were actually the carriage house doors that were used to store cars in the early 1900s. Carriage houses were common sights among the wealthy landowners of the time who already owned horses and carriages, and the early carriage houses were typically attached to stables so that the horses could be stored with the buggy. Quickly, the high-class aristocrats grew tired of smelling horse manure every time they wanted to go for a Sunday drive, and the need for a new storage option emerged.
Next, as cars became more popular and numerous, the first dedicated garages were built. These garages didn’t have doors in the traditional sense, since they were actually more like single-story parking decks. These expansive structures typically charged a monthly fee for the usage of a parking spot and were maintained and cleaned by the owner. By 1910, cars were becoming too ubiquitous for this option to be sustainable any longer.
Finally, we see the advent of the modern garage. Carriage houses built closer to the home and without any stables provided the right mix of affordability and convenience. These houses had simple doors very similar to barn doors, and the popular “Carriage House” style of garage door is designed to emulate this look while keeping the convenience of modern sectional doors.
These early doors had some of the same problems that plagued barn doors, including wearing out hardware quickly and making snow shoveling a necessary evil. In 1921, the first overhead door was invented, a single panel that could be manually lifted upwards to fit against the roof of the garage. The door was made of heavy wood and could be difficult to open, but by 1926 the same man, C.G. Johnson, had also invented an electric door opener.
Soon, there were several companies competing to innovate the garage door and dominate the burgeoning industry. Architects began attaching garages to homes for added convenience as more families came to own cars. Galvanized steel became the material of choice for doors in the 1970s, since wood required far more maintenance. Since then, fiberglass, aluminum, and vinyl have all been used for garage doors, and many modern doors incorporate windows.
The origins of the garage door differ deepening on who you ask and how you define “garage door,” but it is easy to see the slow progression of technology from early Rome though to today. There are many exciting cutting-edge innovations coming out from the garage door industry, including Smartphone-operated openers, jackshaft openers, and newer, more efficiently insulated doors, but no one can predict exactly what form the garage doors of the future will take. No matter what, we’re sure that the car will still have an important place in the home, and that the door protecting that car will remain an important part of consumer’s lives.