The Evolution of Door Knob design Through Time

The evolution of Door knob design through time. Architecture, an imposing and ubiquitous art form, surrounds us daily through the physical structures we encounter. Yet, despite constantly interacting with buildings and living within them, how often do we truly touch architecture?

One architectural design element, the doorknob, is a unique haptic bridge between humans and buildings. Although often overlooked, doorknobs boast a rich history as deep as the history of houses and doors themselves.

Ancient Beginnings (4,000 BC)

Doorknobs have existed in some form for as long as doors, although they were only sometimes as sophisticated as modern versions. The first keys originated in Ancient Egypt and Babylon around 6,000 years ago as simple, wooden devices. Early doors featured a small hole that functioned as a doorknob, which required a leather thong or piece of string to loop around the bar to open it.

There was limited innovation in keys and door hardware throughout ancient and medieval times. While palaces or noble households had handmade glass or iron door knobs, secure locks were a luxury few could afford. In some countries, such as the UK and Denmark, chamberlains were responsible for safeguarding noble households and valuables, as locks and doors were often cumbersome.

1848: Patenting the Modern Door knob design

With the rise of the industrial revolution and increasing household wealth, the demand for personal safety grew, paving the way for the modern door knob design to be mass-produced. In 1848, 16-year-old African-American inventor Osbourn Dorsey developed the patent for the first modern doorknob and door stoppers.

Dorsey’s patent application to the United States Patent Office described his invention as a device for holding wings open, consisting of a single rod pivoted at one end and the other running along a guide member.

20th Century and Beyond: Future of Door knob design

While Dorsey’s invention was not the first doorknob, it was the first documented patent suitable for manufacturing. This invention quickly spread across the industrialized world, transforming access systems forever.

Architects and designers convey a building’s statement and character using door knob design through various shapes, materials, and colors. Thoughtful details, such as Bauhaus or Rococo-style door knobs, complement the design and capture the cultural zeitgeist. However, as digital technologies evolve, access systems are becoming more complex and sophisticated, with some entrances, like revolving doors or hands-free entryways, rendering doorknobs obsolete.


Regardless of how doorknobs may evolve, how people enter a building will provide valuable insights into our cultures and societies for future historians. The humble doorknob, a small yet significant architectural touchpoint, has played a crucial role in connecting people with the buildings surrounding them throughout history.

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