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The History of Doorknobs: A Journey Through Time

the history of doorknobs
Last Updated on March 21, 2023
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Doorknobs are a familiar part of everyday life, but have you ever thought about their history? Doorknobs have been around for centuries and have undergone significant changes in design and function over time. From ancient civilizations to the modern era, the history of doorknobs reflects shifts in architecture, design, technology, and society.

Doorknobs have a long history dating back to ancient civilizations like the Egyptians and remain an important part of modern life. Doorknobs have undergone significant transformations over time, from simple latches with handles used in antiquity to more elaborate, decorative, and modern designs.

We’ll take a closer look at the fascinating history of doorknobs for those who want to know how doorknobs were developed and how this invention influenced architecture. From the origins of door operation to doorknobs as we know them today, we’ll be exploring their ancient origins, ongoing evolution, and impact on the world around us.

Early Door Handles: The Origins Of Door Operation

Door handles have been used to open and close doors for thousands of years, with evidence that doorknobs and door handles have existed for at least 5000 years. Of course, this means ancient civilizations like the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used basic types of doorknobs. The doorknobs used in early periods were simple, functional objects made of wood, stone, or metal.

Before the invention of the doorknob, as we know it today, people had to find alternative means of closing their doors. While many people used latches, leather straps were also commonly used as door handles. A strap or string was threaded through a small hole in the doors and looped around a wooden bar, allowing the user to open the door.

There was little innovation in locks and door hardware throughout ancient and medieval periods. While palaces and noble households used doorknobs, they largely remained a luxury that few could afford. Many families shared one big room during the Middle Ages, making doors and privacy practically nonexistent for most people.

Doorknobs began gaining popularity in the 18th century, becoming commonplace in Europe and North America. The advent of the doorknob allowed for a more convenient and secure method of opening and closing doors and provided much-needed privacy. As the 19th century progressed, doorknobs became more accessible to the middle class, and their design became more standardized.

The First Doorknob: Osbourn Dorsey’s Invention

While it’s difficult to accurately pinpoint when doorknobs were first used, we know when they became more widely used in society. Osbourn Dorsey submitted the first standardized doorknob patent – titled “Improvement in Door-Knobs” – to the U.S. Patent Office in 1878. Essentially, Dorsey’s design was an improvement on existing types of basic doorknobs.

Dorsey’s doorknob design improved existing designs, allowing the knob to be easily removed from the spindle for cleaning or repair. His design consisted of a cylindrical knob with a threaded shank that screwed onto a spindle, which passed through the door. Unfortunately, the invention wasn’t embraced by the public at first and took time to catch on.

It took many years after the patent was filed for the general public to accept that fixing the doorknobs on their doors was easier and more convenient than using latches or leather straps. Dorsey’s contribution to the development of the doorknob cannot be understated, as his invention paved the way for future innovations in doorknob design.

Doorknobs would become more functional as technology and manufacturing capabilities advanced. The industrial revolution allowed for the mass production of door handles, which made them more affordable and accessible to the general public. Today, door handles come in a variety of styles and materials, ranging from simple knobs to high-end smart electronic knobs.

The Evolution Of Doorknob Manufacturing

Manufacturers had to adapt to meet the growing demand for doorknobs in the 19th century. The earliest doorknobs were handmade, with individual craftsmen producing them individually. Mass production became necessary as demand increased, with the industrial revolution allowing for machine-manufactured doorknobs.

Many doorknobs were made with die-casting processes in the early 20th century. In this process, molten metal is injected into a mold and left to cool. This method allowed for the creation of intricate doorknob designs in a wide variety of materials, including brass, iron, and bronze. The American History Museum has a set of doorknobs from the 1920s in its collection.

In the mid-20th century, plastic became a popular material for doorknob manufacturing due to its affordability and versatility. Plastics can be molded into various shapes and colors, allowing manufacturers to produce doorknobs quickly and inexpensively. Doorknob manufacturing has become even more advanced, with new materials and technologies regularly developed.

Modern Doorknob Design: From Traditional To High-Tech

Doorknob design has become a crucial element of interior design in modern times. Many different types of doorknobs are available in the market today, ranging from traditional designs to high-tech, smart locks. Traditional doorknob designs are still popular, with varied designs that range from antique reproductions to contemporary twists on classic designs.

In recent years, high-tech smart locks have become increasingly popular. These doorknobs offer features such as keyless entry, remote access, and other advanced features. Smart doorknobs can be accessed and controlled via applications installed on your smartphone. These high-tech designs offer convenience and security, making them popular choices for modern homes.

Another popular trend in doorknob design is minimalism – a stark contrast when compared to older doorknob designs. Simple, sleek designs that blend in with the overall decor of the room are becoming more popular. This trend has led to the use of materials like glass, acrylic, and brushed steel. These sleek doorknobs feature clean lines and smooth surfaces.


Doorknobs have played an essential role in human life over the past 5000 years and can be traced back to civilizations like the Egyptians. The first standardized doorknob was patented in 1878, helping doorknobs evolve from basic latch systems with handles to more complex, ornate, and contemporary designs. There are even smart doorknobs widely used by homeowners today!

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