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Who Invented the First Sliding Door?

Many modern features of homes have been around for centuries.  Windows, doors, roofs—these are all architectural aspects that are integral to the construction of a home.  Sliding doors are among these essential mechanisms that make our homes easy to navigate, comfortable, and stylish.  We see them in just about every place imaginable: homes, businesses, airports, hospitals, shops, and plenty of other spaces.  Have you ever wondered who invented them?

outdoor sliding patio door

An Ancient History

To say that sliding doors have been in use for a long time would be a drastic understatement.  Archaeological evidence proves that sliding doors were first implemented as early as the first century, as discoveries of Roman sliding door tracks were uncovered in Pompeii, Italy.

The true inventor of the sliding door is unknown, but we can confirm that sliding doors were used as far back as Ancient Greece.  Thanks to archaeological discoveries, we know that early sliding doors had turns at the tops and bottoms of the doors to hang them.  Door were also made out of bronze and marble as opposed to wood, either for security, draft prevention, or both.

Modern Sliding Doors

Sliding doors became more common during the start of the 20th century.  Sliding doors started cropping up in homes in the prewar era, but by the time World War II erupted, it seemed like this style of door was in just about every home.  Historians theorized these sliding doors were inspired by the Japanese doors called Shoji, a sliding, translucent door hung in place by a wooden frame.

There are two types of standard sliding doors in use today: top-hung or bottom rolling doors.

Top-hung systems are the most common type of sliding door.  In this system, the door is secured at its top by two trolley hangers that run along a hidden track.  A track stopper flanks each end of the track to take the brunt of any impact should the sliding door be slammed.  The track stopper also holds the sliding door in the open or closed position.

a modern sliding door

Bottom rolling sliding door systems are used in scenarios when a top-hung system cannot be implemented, for example, if the weight of the door can’t be supported by trolley hangers.  In a bottom rolling system, two rollers, also called a sheave, sit on the track with two guides at the top running in a guided track channel.  The weight of the door is bore on the bottom two wheels.  It can be more difficult to operate a sliding door in a bottom rolling system than a top-hung system because of how the door’s weight is distributed.

Finally, there is a third sliding door called a lift-and-slide door gear.  This type is used when a better seal is needed, to prevent drafts, or to create a more soundproof environment.  In this system, the sliding door is lifted from its frame when opened or closed.

Automatic Sliding Doors

In the same family as a sliding door is the automatic sliding door.  Just as its name suggests, the automatic door opens by means of a sensor.  These doors can be dated back as early as the first century, just like its regular, no-automatic sliding door counterpart.

Mathematician Heron of Alexandria in Roman Egypt was known as the first inventor of the automatic door.  This first iteration of the automatic sliding door used the heat emitted by a fire lit by a temple priest.  The automation relied on the atmospheric pressure, which would build over a few hours in a brass vessel, then causing water to pump into containers.  These neighboring containers were used as weights in a complex system of ropes and pulleys.  The effect would be the temple doors opening just as the temple’s congregation arrived for morning prayers.

black automatic sliding doors

The automatic door was again revisited in 1931 by engineers Horace H. Raymond and Sheldon S. Roby of Stanley Works.  The two designed an optical device that would trigger an automatic door to open.  Then, in 1954, Dee Horton and Lew Hewitt invented the first automatic sliding door by utilizing a mat actuator.  By 1960, they co-founded Horton Automatics Inc. and place their automatic sliding door on the market.

Improvements on the Sliding Door

Sliding doors were convenient but they weren’t always the best type of door for energy savings.  Nowadays, manufacturers have improved upon the original sliding door to make them rival the energy efficiency of standard doors.

Advancements in technology and manufacturing have improved the sliding door, allowing it to be:

  • Available in single, double, or even quadruple paned
  • Gas-filled for energy efficiency
  • Customizable
  • Coated with specialized formulas to protect the glass from UV radiation
  • More efficiently designed and functional with practical track and locking mechanisms
  • More affordable due to standardizations in its manufacturing process and use of cost effective materials like vinyl and PVC.

At Feldco, we have decades of experience with great quality doors, local services to accommodate customers with products, and great installers who are factory trained. That’s why over 500,000 homeowners went with Feldco for their home improvement needs.  We replace your doors so you can feel good about your home’s curb appeal and energy efficiency. Speak to a product specialist and get a free quote today.

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