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This Story On The History Of Automatic Doors’ Invention Will Shock You

Okay, well, this is more revelatory than shocking, but I bet you’ll be gaping at some of the facts behind the automatic doors invention story. Well, at least I was.


History of automatic doors

Historians of today state that the idea of automatic doors was first conceived by Heron of Alexandria, Greece around 10 A.D. Heron was a mathematician and engineer as seen by the two books he has written; named The Pneumatica. These books are an anthology of his experiments and ideas.


Image Courtesy: Giphy

In his book, published in 1903, the mechanism for automatic temple doors was seen. Heron employed forces of nature and physics to make this work. His comprehensive model was based on air pressure controlled by a heat source.

Previous models of automatic doors

Basically, Heron’s automatic doors were water-powered (water was the weight used to power the pulleys) using a constant heat source. Turns out, this model worked combining heat, water power, and the pulley system.

courtesy: giphy

This pumped water into adjacent holding containers that acted as weights, enabling a series of ropes and pulleys to open the temple’s doors when people were arriving for prayer. He later implemented a similar application to open the City gates. Heron’s automatic doors were among more than 80 mechanical appliances that he designed to work by water pressure, steam or air.


Another such instance of an ancient automatic door was found in historian Joseph Needham’s book, Science and Civilization in China (1986). This automatic door worked based on a foot sensor and was implemented in the royal library by Emperor Yang of Sui in the 17th century.

Pretty cool ain’t it?

The prophet writer

Another marvelous mention of automatic doors was in the novel, When The Sleeper Awakes, by visionary author H.G. Wells.You’d be surprised to know that many of the things that H.G Wells described in his fiction novels almost two centuries ago are now a tangible reality. One such thing is the mention of an automatic door.


H.G.Wells, courtesy:


Here’s an excerpt from his book:

The two men addressed turned obediently, after one reluctant glance at Graham, and instead of going through the archway as he expected, walked straight to the dead wall of the apartment opposite the archway. And then came a strange thing; a long strip of this apparently solid wall rolled up with a snap, hung over the two retreating men and fell again, and immediately Graham was alone with the new comer and the purple-robed man with the flaxen beard.

-From When the sleeper awakes, by H.G Wells


courtesy: Giphy


This book came out in 1899 when automatic doors were anything but reality. It’s kind of awe-inspiring that a man living in a world majorly ruled by candles and carriages, dreamt up a world that is a reality today.

The first automatic door

Finally, automatic doors were introduced into the mainstream market around 1960. The idea was implemented by Lew Hewitt and Dee Horton. Upward sliding garage doors and electric door openers came into effect around 1920-1926. If you’re curious about how an automatic door is made, check it out below.


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