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The History of Doors

Doors are an integral part of any structure, but does anyone know where they actually come from?

It is safe to imagine that humans from the stone-age era invented doors out of a necessity for safety, followed by privacy. A rock in front of a cave perhaps bought you some time if a ferocious, hungry carnivore had decided you were dinner, or kept out sharp wind on a winter day.

Today, doors come in a vast, overwhelming plethora of shapes, sizes, materials, colors, and temperaments. The technology of doors is now evolving at a faster pace than ever.  We will now journey through these passage of doors in terms of time, as well as note what was going on in different parts of world throughout various periods.


3000 B.C. – The First Door

Just like most inventions and discoveries, signs show us that the idea of a door was first conceived in ancient Egypt. Several tomb paintings have false doors as wall decoration, which in fact resembled windows. This was perhaps meant to symbolise entrance to the afterlife.

We can also suspect that doors were used in Europe around a similar period. Archeologists in Zurich, Switzerland, have recently discovered an oak door which might have been crafted in the 3063 B.C.


2000 B.C.

While Europeans carved oak into doors, stone doors were used in Asia, particularly in China and the region which we now know as Iraq. We can even see the contrast between simple doors used by civilians and more extravagant designs adopted by the wealthy. The legend of Solomon shows us olive-wood doors from 587 B.C., ornamented in gold. We must also note that the Romans enjoyed their glass and made windows out of them, which would eventually be used for doors in only a few millennia. These windows were not as effective as transparent, modern-day windows, nor as safe as laminated or tempered glass. However, they paved the way for using architecture as a platform for art.


1st Century

In 10 A.D., Heron of Alexandria engineered the first automatic door, with technology that used heat and pressure. He called it machine #37. Fire would heat up water in a vessel, which would activate pulleys attached to the door. While it may seem like a lot of work when an arm or two would do, it made for great theatrics, enabling those present to make believe that it was the gods themselves opening the doors. At the same time, Romans were already making use of sliding doors available not only as single sliding doors, but double and even folding doors.   


5th and 6th Century

Far less tedious and energy-consuming than Heron’s heat-and-water-operated door, the first foot-sensor door was introduced in China. This was a design commissioned by Emperor Yang of Sui for library doors. One can imagine foot-sensor doors coming in handy when one’s arms are full of books.


 8th Century

Though popular in Japan, Shoji screens were actually designed in China. These folding screens continue to act as a non-committal barrier to this day. Chinese shojis were designed to stay put whereas Japanese shojis – often made from wood, bamboo, and rattan - are lightweight and therefore easily portable. Artwork and beauty were not ignored in these designs.


 11th Century

Whereas Shoji are folding doors, their sliding counterparts, fusuma, are made from thick paper attached by wooden frames which resemble mullions. Unlike shoji, fusuma are opaque, and are able to dramatically change the perception of a room.



A prolific scientist from the region we know now as Diyarbakir in Turkey, al-Jazari invented many things such as a hand-washing and time-telling machines. Another notable innovation of his is the first automated gate. Similar to Heron’s doors, this gate was driven by hydropower. Unlike Heron’s door, however, al-Jazari’s gate was run by mechanics rather than heat.


12th and 13th Century

In the medieval era, several houses had doors with symbols carved on them, or ornate attachments indicating the household members’ status, religious affiliation, etc. These doors were often made of wood, though copper and bronze were available too. Doors were now not only a practical barrier from the outside world, but a representation of who lived there. “The Symbol at Your Door” was a mark of status, religious affiliation, and other indicators of societal position.


 Renaissance Era (14th – 17th Century)

The renaissance was a period when art was prioritized and thriving. Taking symbols on your door to the next level, wooden and iron doors were now made with elaborate artwork and heavy door knockers. The early part of the renaissance, between 1425 and 1452 to be exact, was also when the spectacular Gates of Paradise was built in sculpted bronze, a very valuable material at the time. Eventually, pointed arches were foregone in favour of square linlets, with design shifting from the religious to the secular a time when beauty and functionality were on par with one another, especially in terms of architecture. Meanwhile, Britain began manufacturing glass as we know it in the 17th century. Until now, glass for construction purposes was , and it is around this time that we were able to make glass transparent.


18th Century

German inventor H. Bockhacker created the first patent for the revolving door. Though now revolving doors are an object of delight to most children and some adults, the idea did not initially catch on. Eight years later, in 1888, Theophilus Van Kannel from Pennsylvania received the first U.S. patent for a three-way wooden storm door, designed for wind and weather-protection as well as energy efficiency. It is rumoured that Van Kannel designed this door because he disliked the tradition of gentlemen holding doors open for women.



With two world wars on the horizon, the 20th century changed the globe significantly, abandoning many trends and creating new ones. The sliding door is one of them, and when fiberglass strands began to be produced at a mass scale in 1932, sliding doors became available in glass and were often installed top hung. This was an evolution in terms of the Japanese Fusuma, which used fabric and paper in their making.



A step up from the fabric and paper-based Fusuma, the patent for sliding glass doors was documented by Gustav Ziehl in 1930, using a metal ball to roll the rectangular glass over the extrusion. In 1931, the first electronic automatic doors were invented by two American engineers, Horace H. Raymond and Sheldon S. Roby. This conception was an optical system that opened doors for waiters at Wilcox’s Pier Restaurant as they carried multiple trays and plates to serve.  It is this technology that has led way to body-free doors as we know now it. For example, the new Nissan car doors open with a wave of a foot underneath it in case of arms full of groceries or a tired toddler. During WW2, Samuel Bagno invented the motion sensor. Initially intended for the military in detecting suspicious movement, its use evolved in the 70s.



The foot-automated door continues to evolve, as Dee Horton and Lew Hewitt installed an electronic device underneath a mat, also known as a mat actuator. This brought about the popularity of sliding doors in the 1960s.



Bagno’s motion sensor is now adopted into civilian use, first starting their career in home burglar alarm systems and eventually making their way to sliding automatic doors. While Horton and Hewitt’s mat actuator used a discreet gadget activated by the foot, Bagno’s motion detector introduced a fresh and mind-boggling concept of the possibilities of physics and electricity.


1980s and 1990s

The following decades continued to benefit from motion-sensor doors. The 80s popularized its use on revolving doors, using infrared presence sensors in addition to motion detectors.


Present Day

With evolving technology combined with globalization, we now have an overwhelming option for doors, with new designs coming out every year if not every month. Doors are available in several materials, including but not limited to wood, metal, glass, or various combinations. Doors with rigged textures, doors with mullions, doors with shelves. Going beyond the traditional manual door, we are now blissfully oblivious to the magic of automatic doors, triggered by optics or motion sensors. Muraflex offers doors with additional features such as room schedulers, and motion-sensor telescopic doors that are activated with a gesture of the palm. If you opt for glazed walls or doors, you need not choose between collaboration and privacy. Double-glazed walls and doors are available in smart glass, switching it from transparent to opaque with a simple click of a switch.

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