Hinge History

Historical Development and Advances of the Hinge

Why are we so hung up on hinges? This simple little piece of hardware has caused a revolution in the way we build our houses, secure our possessions, and travel about, since even a small hinge can make you eight times stronger than you would be without it.[1] In fact, you probably reap the benefits of at least five hinges before you get to work in the morning without even realizing it.

Butt hinges on your doors help get you out of your bedroom and keep the steam at bay while you shower. Kitchen cabinet hinges come in handy when you’re reaching for cereal or coffee beans—even if they’re invisible hinges that fit neatly inside the door. Don’t forget the refrigerator door hinge that is keeping your milk cold. And after your front door swings closed behind you, you might pop open a 600-lb garage door,[2] thanks to mighty power of  T-hinges.


No one knows exactly when the hinge was invented, but we can imagine what life would be like without it. In an ancient settlement in Turkey dating back to 6500 BC, the houses had no front doors. Instead, people propped up ladders against their mud-brick houses and entered them from a hole in the roof.[3] In other societies, people had to rely on heavy rocks and giant slabs of wood or stone to keep them safe from weather and intruders—meaning anyone too weak to move the makeshift heavy door was vulnerable.

Hattusa, Upper West gate. A giant wooden door would have swung on pivots between these two pillars to protect the ancient city.
Hattusa, Upper West gate. A giant wooden door would have swung on pivots between these two pillars to protect the ancient city.[4]
Enter the hinge. By at least 1600 BC, people were using an early form of the modern hinge to make massive objects more moveable, based on discoveries at Hattusa, an ancient Near Eastern capital. The city was surrounded by giant stone walls with openings that apparently had equally giant wooden doors that swung open on pivots set in large stone sockets.[4]
This Egyptian bronze gate hinge, complete with inscriptions, is on display at the British Museum. Dated to about 760-650 BC. Exact proportions: 38 cm high, 20.4 cm long
This Egyptian bronze gate hinge, complete with inscriptions, is on display at the British Museum. Dated to about 760-650 BC. Exact proportions: 38 cm high, 20.4 cm long
Such hinges were probably not available to the average homeowner in ancient times. The earliest known hinges were for important public and sacred buildings. The only building with hinges mentioned in the Old Testament was King Solomon’s elaborate temple (likely gold-plated sockets for solid gold doors).[5] Many examples of stone sockets have been found from Babylonian and Assyrian temples as well. A large bronze Egyptian hinge dated to about 760-650 BC—about 15 inches high and 8 inches long—is also thought to have adorned a temple.

Fast forward to life in the American colonies, and hinges as we know them had become ubiquitous. Women and children had the ability to swing heavy lids, doors, and window coverings—not just men, freeing them from strength limitations of the past.Even as the Jamestown settlers tried to reduce their reliance on British iron, they continued to import hardware such as hinges over a decade after the colony’s founding. Blacksmithing was among the most popular occupations in the later colonies, thanks to ongoing needs for domestic hardware, including hinges. While blacksmiths were most concerned with forging low-cost and functional pieces, they clearly also had an eye toward design and aesthetics, as can be seen from the ornate hinge plates they would make.[6] 

Colonial Iron Hinges, from the 17th and
18th centuries, courtesy of The Henry
Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum [6]

Colonial Strap Hinges, from the
Sorber collection of James Sorber [7]

Colonial Strap Hinges from Pennsylvannia and New England, from the Sorber collection of James Sorber

Colonial Iron Hinges, from the 17th and 18th centuries, courtesy of The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum
The Conestoga type wagon was first built by German settlers in the Conestoga river valley region in Lancaster County, Eastern Pennsylvania in the 1730s

The Conestoga type wagon was first built by German settlers in the Conestoga river valley region in Lancaster County, Eastern Pennsylvania in the 1730s.

When the colonists began to go west in the 1840s and 1850s, hinges went with them. Charles Hager, founder of the present-day Hager Hardware, built his business in St. Louis, MO, by making wagon wheel rims and supplying hinges for the doors of the many Conestoga wagons that were leaving the city in hopes of finding gold. Hager is credited with developing a compact version of the butt hinge in the 1900s; now the hinge of choice for most household doors. 

Hager butt hinge

The nineteenth century saw many other innovations in hinges in America. Stanley’s Bolt Manufactory (predecessor to the modern StanleyWorks) founded in 1843 in New Britain, CT, was initially famous for making T-hinges more efficiently and then won a patent for hinges with ball bearings in 1899. The company also takes credit for developing the first hinge hasp, first crate hinge, and first “blind” hinge.[8] Amerock developed a method to deliver excellent consistent finishes on their hinges. Stanley T-Hinge 

Stanley Ball-Bearing Hinge

In the past century, new uses for hinges and new types of hinges have made life easier in all sorts of areas. Double-acting hinges let doors open in either direction. Piano hinges, or continuous hinges, let piano tops or chest lids fold all the way back so that they do not detract from the workmanship of the instrument.[9] Conversely, toy box hinges limit a lid’s motion, so that the top of the chest won’t slam shut on little fingers. And invisible hinges, like Blum hinges or Soss hinges, tuck away in cabinets so that we don’t even notice them.
Modern Collection of HingesClick on this link to see our
collection of modern hinges
It’s easy to take the hinge for granted. But when you think about it, modern life hinges on hinges!
- Article by Alix Stuart

[0] From http://www.catalhoyuk.com/ Çatalhöyük: Excavations of a Neolithic Anatolian Höyük
“Çatalhöyük is an example of the important Anatolian contribution to the development of early societies. Excavated by James Mellaart in the early 1960s, the site has been widely recognised as of unique international significance. It is one of the first urban centres in the world (at 7400BC) and it has the first wall paintings and mural art. The spectacular art provides a direct window into life 9000 years ago, and the site is an internationally important key for our understanding of the origins of agriculture and civilisation.”

[1] According to “The Encyclopedia of Hardware” by Tom Philbin (Hawthorn:New York, 1978), p.34.

[2] http://www.ul.com/consumers/garagedoors.html

[3]From “Out of the Fiery Furnace” by Robert Raymond (Pennsylvania State University Press:
University Park, 1986),p.6; plus http://www.catalhoyuk.com/history.html

[5] http://www.studylight.org/enc/isb/view.cgi?number=T4356

[6] In “The History of Metals” by Robert Mulholland, p 81.

[7] From “Colonial Wrought Iron: The Sorber Collection” by Don Plummer

[8] From “Did Monkeys Invent the Monkey Wrench” by Vince Staten (Simon & Schuster:New York, 1996),
plus Stanleyworks website.

[9] According to “The Encyclopedia of Hardware,” Philbin, 35-37.