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How did we get from a Shed with a Horse Stall to Spacious, Comfortable Homes for our Cars?


Most of us probably know that when cars became a thing at the turn of the 20th century, people basically just converted their carriage houses, which previously housed both the horses and the buggies, to makeshift garages for their new automobiles. But what happened in the 40-50 years after that to get us to what we now understand as a residential garage? And what happened after? And what’s happening now? From early electric cars to the innovation of the driveway and even a car turntable (?), the history of the American garage is so intricate and has affected neighborhood design and culture so much that some people have found the subject worthy of a graduate thesis. And obviously, as exterior door installers that specialize in garage door installation, maintenance and repair, this is a subject we could go on and on about… But instead, here’s a brief overview of the highlights.

Phase I: Taking Advantage of a Market That Didn’t Exist Yet

So, when the first automobiles showed up in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, people didn’t have a place to house these things, because society was still geared toward foot traffic and buggy traffic. People with carriage houses would rent out their extra space to new car owners. But then the cars ended up smelling like horse manure. So we needed a solution we just didn’t have yet. Cue the new car shed:

Phase II: Anything from Simple “Sheds” to Multi-Room, Heated Facilities

Middle class car owners made simple sheds with barn doors to house their cars. Wealthy people had heated facilities and rooms, sometimes building two outbuildings if they had both a gasoline-run car and an electric car (you read that right – we already did the electric car thing in the 20’s). These buildings were still built to be out of sight from the road, because people felt like garages were unattractive additions to the appearance of a home; so, early garages actually hurt your curb appeal.

Phase III: Suburban Planning and the Rise of the Automobile

By the late 20’s, as society switched from pedestrian-centered movement to vehicle-centered transportation, and designed suburban neighborhoods were on the rise, it only made sense for garages to become attached to the home and facing the street. The first overhead door and even the first electric opener showed up in the 20’s.

 Initially, people would design their garages to mimic porch/sun rooms on the other side of the house, but convenience soon started to overshadow traditional aesthetics. Not to mention, some cars needed almost 50 feet to get out of the garage and swing around onto the road. This caused a need for a bricked or paved area outside the garage where the car could turn around – a driveway. At one point, someone actually invented a car “turntable” to deal with this issue. In the 30’s to the 50’s there were also cars with retractable 5th wheels for easy parking on crowded streets.

Phase IV: The Modern Garage

Over time, beginning in the second half of the 20th c. and extending to today, we’ve settled into the mindset that an ideal house should have an attached garage, most people wanting at least a 2-car situation. At this point, automatic garage door openers are also a must – literally. In California, it became law in 2019 to have a battery backup on any automatic opener. So today, in 2021, that huge overhead door on the side of the house facing the road, and attached drive, is just a natural aesthetic and utilitarian standard in US culture.

What’s Next?

Maybe we’re getting bored, maybe we just want more space, but now many families are converting their garages into living spaces. Sacs Garage Door Repair can create and install custom glass and aluminum garage doors just for this reason. People want to let light into the space so it’s easier to use for purposes other than housing their cars. All of this: literal sheds for carriages all the way to converted living spaces, has happened in just over 100 years. It makes you wonder – what’s next for the American garage?

Is Your Garage Door Off Track? Stop Using it and Call Us Now!

Sometimes, a garage door off track is a simple fix. But even if you inspect the door and figure out the issue, it’s not necessarily something you should fix yourself. Garage doors have so many moving parts that hold so much weight and tension that it’s not always safe to fix it yourself. There’s often a possibility of real bodily harm, either from pinching fingers against rollers or springs, or from the danger of an unbalanced garage door falling to the ground with someone in its crossfire. So call a professional if your door is off track. We can come out right away to do a quality repair with no risk to you.