We have the French to thank for the garage or for the name at least. The word comes from “garer,” which means “to shelter”. Until the early 20th century, no one even mentioned the humble garage as it simply didn’t exist before then.
However, a purpose built building to store your preferred mode of transport did of course exist before the 20th century. They were variously called the carriage house or stable, and the early automobiles from the late 19th century were simply stored where space could be found with the carriages, buggies and horses.
However, having your shiny, new-fangled automobile smelling of horse manure whenever you took it out for a spin was not good for morale. So gradually, buildings were created specially for cars and became known as garages.
Initially, garages were largely communal buildings with anything up to 100 cars stored in them, each owner paying $15 or more a month for a parking space in a heated and secure garage. Around 1910, the number of cars on the road became so many that communal garages were no longer a practical solution, and car owners started to build their own smaller, personal garages.
Car owners went back to the carriage house concept, but this time without sharing it with horses and their smelly manure. The garage as a building to house just a car was born. In fact, garages became so popular that by 1925 the real estate industry was lamenting that houses without a garage were slower to sell.
The original garage door was in the style of the carriage house double swing doors. But as early as 1921, a certain C. G. Johnson from Hartford City in Indiana invented the overhead folding garage door. Realizing that people didn’t like having to lift and lower their garage doors by hand, he complemented his invention in 1926 by introducing the electric door opener.
C. G. Johnson’s overhead folding garage doors were made of wood and this was the material of choice for several decades. It wasn’t until the 1970s that materials like galvanized steel, fiberglass, various composites and vinyl wrapped aluminum were used. The automatic electric door opener, a 1926 invention, only really came into its own in the 1960s.
The idea of a garage kit sold by mail order might seem like a good idea. The idea isn’t new. As early as 1908 you could buy the prefabricated wall and roof parts of your garage in kit form from the Sears Roebuck catalog. This concept continues today, though it has become much more sophisticated and easier to assemble.
Garages and reliable garage door openers have become extremely important to us. The garage and its door are now coming close to replacing the main front door of the house. Some 71% of people now enter and exit their homes mainly through their garages.
Some garages have gone down in history. In 1923 a garage in north Hollywood was used as an animation studio by the then unknown Walt Disney. In 1976, the newly-founded Apple Computers Inc assembled their first computers in the garage of Steve Jobs’ home, and 22 years later in 1998, a newly-founded company cleared out a garage to use as their workspace. The company name was Google, Inc.