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History of the Overhead Garage Door

They go hand-in-hand with the automobile. They’re a key feature of almost every home in America. But did you know that the modern overhead garage door as we know it was invented in 1921? Many, many years before that, garage doors have been sliding or carriage doors.

Nowadays, most garage door companies work with the overhead garage door as carriage and sliding doors have become more niche products for gates rather than garages. At John’s Custom Garage Doors, we work each day providing garage door service in Tigard.

Today, however, we want to focus on one particular question: how did this technological shift to the overhead garage door come about, how did it become so ubiquitous, and when did it become automated? These are all questions that we will answer in our latest blog post, exploring the history of the overhead garage door.

Changing the Game: The Ford Model T

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The Ford Model T changed how we moved and how we lived in more ways than one.

Before we explore how the overhead garage door came about, we have to look at the key moment that changed the game when it comes to automobiles, garages and the American home: the Ford Model T.

Henry Ford had been in the automobile industry for roughly 10 years before he released the Model T in October 1908. Due to his pioneering of the assembly line for complex goods manufacturing, he could keep costs down. By paying his workers far more than most competitors, he could sell the vehicle to them as free advertising. And then, by marketing to the middle class, it quickly became the most popular car in America. By 1912, the Ford Motor Company had sold over half a million Model Ts, definitively replacing the horse and buggy.

In contrast, the garages that once housed horses and carriages soon became too small for the Model T. Garage doors of the time were sliding or hinged carriage doors and were not large enough to fit a full-sized automobile. In addition, they could be easily blocked by snow or other impediments while being incredibly heavy and laborious to move. This is where C.G. Johnson saw his opportunity.

Another Kind of Entrepreneur

C.G. Johnson first moved to Detroit as a salesman, joining the rapidly growing automobile industry and its ancillary auto specialties industry. Lodging in Detroit, he soon picked up on the issues of the old-fashioned carriage doors and sliding doors, especially during the snowy months of Winter.

Johnson’s design combined a steel track on either side of the door with counterbalance springs and struts to make it easier for people to open and close their garage doors. This innovation meant that customers could have a more secure and reliable door that didn’t have to use as much space. Securing a business partner in Forest McKee, Johnson and company started their first factory in Detroit, able to produce one door per day.

In order to sell the product, Johnson took to the road. He would travel from town to town with a small prototype mounted onto his car. With this small model in tow, distributors responded eagerly to Johnson’s new door, and the overhead garage door was officially on the market.

Johnson’s Garage Door Goes Automatic

Before long 1926, Johnson began noticing the power of electricity in the American home. Many new appliances became widespread, including toasters, flat irons, straightening irons and more. Naturally, Johnson began to wonder if he could take his overhead garage door design one step further.

In 1926, Johnson patented an electrically operated garage door opener. This was a revolutionary invention that meant that customers could open their doors from inside their homes with the push of a button. This meant more convenience and safety for customers, as they didn’t have to heave the garage door open themselves. More importantly, Johnson’s patent paved the way for other garage door openers and created a whole new industry at the same time.

Convenience in a Remote Control

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Where would we be without the remote control garage system? Outside of the vehicle, indubitably.

If there’s one garage door accessory that everyone associates with their home, it’s the remote control. The first remote-controlled garage door operator systems were built in 1931 by two separate entities. But it wouldn’t be until 1954 when the Alliance Manufacturing Co. (today known as Genie Co.), introduced the first mass-produced system.

Each design used radio signals sent from a remote to a receiver that triggers the opening mechanism. The breakthrough would allow customers to open and close their doors from the comfort of their cars, and the basic garage door system as we know it came to be.

The Automatic Garage Goes Mainstream

It wouldn’t be until 1970 that automatic garage doors would become the ubiquitous product we know today. The breakthrough would come with the split rail. As Brian Santo wrote for IEEE Spectrum: “What finally made remote-controlled garage door openers practical for home use in the 1970s was a new approach to mounting garage doors: the split rail, which made it easier to create custom garage doors.”

This allowed companies to begin selling their own garage door systems, including the king of DIY projects, Sears, Roebuck and Co. Sears would sell the LiftMaster design under their own Craftsman label. With this came a mass adoption of the automatic garage.

Tigard’s Premier Overhead Garage Door Service

Today, over 70 years later, many of Johnson’s original designs are still used by homeowners everywhere. It’s no secret that no garages mean no John’s Custom Garage Doors. But it’s also should be no secret that we have offered the best quality garage door service in Tigard and the whole west side of Portland, OR, since 1948.

For four generations, our family has committed to providing the best customer service possible when performing garage door installation, maintenance or repair. From the Tualatin Hills all the way to the Oregon coast, our knowledgeable, professional garage installation technicians work with clients to find the right garage door for their homes. Have questions about garage door repair or other services? Call us at (503) 536-2362 or contact us via our website.

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History of the Overhead Garage Door

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