A Brief History of the Electric or Automatic Garage Door Opener

January 15, 2014

An electric garage door usually consists of a motorised device that automatically opens and closes a domestic garage door. The mechanism can be activated either by a ‘remote control’  device using a ‘wireless’ radio frequency or with a number of other fixed devices that are hard wired to the main control unit of the electric operator.

The Overhead Door Corporation, now based in Lewisville, Texas, claim their founder, a certain C. G. Johnson based in Hartford City, Indiana invented the ‘upward lifting garage door’ in 1921 and the electric garage door opener in 1926. There is very little information about the mechanism and quite what kind of automatic system these early doors used, but as this was around the time that the use of motor vehicles was becoming widespread, it is very likely that this would have been an appropriate time for the development of garage doors and automatic devices.

An article in a 1931 Popular Science magazine describes two separate inventors simultaneously developing a radio controlled automatic door opener completely independently of each other. Inventors in Illinois and Spokane, Washington developed very similar systems using a radio transmitter to trigger the automatic operation of a door. The Illinois inventor apparently used some kind of radio code system whereas the Spokane system was based on a specific frequency being the method of security. The article also describes the use of an obstruction safety mechanism and courtesy light system, features that are still used in modern door operators.

After the Second World War the use of automatic garage door operators was becoming much more widespread and garage door operator products were being commercially marketed. A 1946 Popular Science article describes the ‘Driv-Rite-In’ garage Door opener from the Era Meter Company in Chicago, with images of the product used on an overhead sectional door. The unit looks very similar to modern operators with an enclosed head unit and courtesy light.

In 1962, the Bolton Gate Company based in Bolton, UK was marketing their ‘Drivin’ automatic garage door operating unit which would have been widely available.

By the late 1970’s fixed code radio hand transmitters were starting to become a standard feature. These systems worked on a fixed frequency and used a preset code transmitted by radio waves to trigger the door operator. The code was usually set using a series of corresponding dip switches in both the transmitter and receiver to set a digital code. This offered much higher levels of security, although the systems were vulnerable to ‘code grabbers’ – devices which could detect and replicate the digital code, and ‘code scanners’, these were devices that would automatically cycle through and transmit digital codes until the correct one was detected.

The fixed code systems were gradually replaced with ‘rolling code’ technology during the 1990’s. Rolling code systems cycle through digital codes based on algorithms. This practically illuminates the possibility of code eavesdropping and is a much more secure system. Codes are also now transmitted using encryption systems making it virtually impossible to ‘hack’ the radio system.

Garage door operators have used a number of designs and devices to transfer power from the motor to move the garage door, including screw and chain drive systems. These can be noisy and messy, even dropping grease and dirt onto the garage floor and vehicles below the drive mechanism. Drive and screw mechanisms are still in operation today but the more recent and higher end operators tend to use ‘belt drive’ systems. These utilise an extremely strong fabric belt, usually reinforced with materials such as Kevlar, to drive the door movement. They are much more durable and quiet in operation. They also require much less maintenance.

Garage door technology has come a long way since the early devices. Safety mechanisms are much more sensitive and the security is far superior. Garage door operators can now be activated with products such as digital key transponders and biometric finger print scanners. They can even be controlled over the internet and by mobile phone systems. Garage door operator motors are now digitally controlled and use servo systems allowing for precise control of speed and sensitivity.

ABi Garage Doors Has been installing and repairing garage doors and automatic operators across Yorkshire for over 20 years. We have seen a number of changes over this time and have experience of most garage door operators and their technologies. Even some of the older door operators can still be repaired and upgraded. This not only ensures their safe and reliable operation but costs considerably less than the price of having a complete new system installed. Alternatively, if you want the latest that automatic garage door technology has to offer, then you can be sure that ABi Garage Door Specialists are experts in their field.

View the article on the Bolton Gate Comapny as a part of our Garage Door History series.

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