Door handles and door knobs might be a necessary, functional household item that can just be ignored most of the time, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few fun, interesting facts about the history and tradition when you scratch beneath the surface.
1. A Recent Invention
Locking door knobs and handles as we know them were only invented relatively recently. In 1878, an inventor by the name of Osbourn Dorsey made a submission to the US Patent Office for a door-closing device. Today, door handles and knobs are available in a range of styles and locking options, and all can be purchased online too through suppliers like Handles4U.
Before this invention, the Egyptians used surface rim locks, and it is likely that a crude pull handle was used to pull the door open.
In fact, before the invention of the door knob, people only used locks and keys if they could afford them. If they couldn’t afford a door lock, they would keep their valuable items in a box that could be locked away instead. The expense of door security meant that door knobs and handles were simply not essential as there were much cheaper ways of operating doors.
The reign of Louis XIV in 1643 to 1715 saw the creation of decorative door knobs, so we can assume that this period saw the invention of an early form of concealed mortice lock that would allow the doorknobs to be screwed to the face of the door, maintaining the sleek appearance. That being said, these door knobs were still more about style and opulence than security.
2. Latch String
Before door handles were a thing, many people who could not afford a lock and key used a latch string to keep the doors shut and stop them blowing around in the breeze. This simply involved making a small hole in a door and threading string through that could then be looped around a bar to keep the door closed.
3. Faces to Scare Off Witches
It is incredibly common for antique and traditional door knockers to have faces, often rather scary or creepy ones. These faces didn’t become popular with the intention of scaring away visitors; at least, not human visitors. These terrifying faces were designed to scare away unwanted spirits, witches, and other evil beings, helping to keep homes and their residents safe.
4. Tudors Developed the Need for Handles
It was the Tudor period in Britain that really started to introduce a need for a door handle of some kind. Before this period, homes usually consisted of one large room, and doors were often made from animal hide, so handles were just not necessary.
The Tudor reign and the prosperity of the period introduced changes to how homes function with separate rooms and a desire for privacy becoming more commonplace. This change inadvertently created the need for door handles.
5. Brass and Copper Self-Disinfect
The surface of copper and copper alloys alike have the major advantage of being naturally antimicrobial. These surfaces can get rid of a range of nasty microbes quickly, some within as little as two hours.
This is known as the Oligodynamic effect. It means that the metal ions in the surface have a toxic effect on living cells on their surface, including bacteria, algae and moulds.
The antimicrobial property means that brass and copper door knobs and handles are a great choice for healthcare environments too, alongside being a reassuring choice in your home.
6. 10 Downing Street’s Iconic Door Knocker
The brass lion head door knocker on the front door of 10 Downing Street is arguably one of the most iconic. This classically designed door knocker has not only been touched by some of the world’s most influential leaders, but it has also been in place since 1780.
7. Early Decorative Door Knockers were for the Rich
Door knockers were used on front doors as early as the 16th century; however, they were plain looking. As blacksmiths developed their skills, the wealthy began to have access to more detailed designs, but these were well out of reach of the common man.
It wasn’t until the 1800s that decorative door knockers became more accessible and elaborate, with lion heads and Sphinxes being popular in brass and bronze.
8. Symbolism through a Door Knocker
As the door knocker became more elaborate, the designs were often inspired by myths, religion, and local ideas. The lion was a common choice as it is thought to signify strength, pride, and protection. In China, however, dragons were much more common as they were thought to symbolise power, strength, and good luck.
9. Door knobs Actually Caused a Political Problem
It might be surprising to say the least, but in Vancouver, door handles and knobs have caused some political troubles. Issues raised by the elderly community resulted in legislation that outlawed the use of round doorknobs in new build houses. According to these members of the community, the round door knobs were making access to different parts of their homes difficult.
However, other residents don’t agree with this claim, as they believe that children (in particular those between the ages of six and ten) are much more likely to injure their heads on lever door handles. These residents felt strongly that this new regulation banning the use of rounded door knobs could make these head injuries much more likely.