Who Invented the Door Knob? (Invention Timeline Explained)

It’s pretty tricky to think of a world without door knobs. We often don’t think about them, but door knobs provide security for our houses, and they can also add a certain aesthetic sense that can increase the curbside appeal to your homes. It’s quite interesting to think that one such invention could be relatively overlooked but serves as a hugely important factor in our security. It begs the question, who invented the door knob as we know it? Without efficient door knobs, we wouldn’t enjoy the level of protection for our homes and offices. 

Everything has a history behind it, so in this quick dive about door knobs, let’s explore who patented it, who helped develop the knob and how it’s evolved through the years.

Who invented the first door knob?

Almost all civilizations and eras have their version of door security. Egyptians used surface rim locks, probably bronze or iron, to pull doors open and close. Many people also used a simple latch-string mechanism to keep their doors shut. Others may have used a wrought iron thumb latch or a cott latch to operate their doors. Others may have used leather straps or wood as handles for their doors.

The first documented application for a patent for a door closing device was attributed to Osbourn Dorsey, who in 1878 filed his papers at the US Patent Office. Little is known about him, although historians agree that Dorsey was an African-American man. What he did for a living, or even where he lived, remains a mystery.

The door knob’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • Ancient Egyptians 
    Precursor to Modern-Day Pin Tumbler Locks

    Egyptians used a precursor to the modern-day pin tumbler lock. It was a simple device that comprised a wooden post attached to a door. A horizontal bolt sliding into the post, and it had vertical openings in which a set of pins fitted. The pins were lifted to the right height using a key allowing the bolt to move and then unlock the door. Many historians agree that this device is one of the significant contributions and developments to domestic architecture that still resonates today.

  • Joseph Bramah
    Challenge Lock 

    In 1784, after attending a series of lectures regarding the technical aspects of locks, Bramah designed a lock of his own and applied for a patent in England. That same year he founded the Bramah Locks company, which became popular because of its top-quality locks, which were resistant to lock-picking and tampering. He even had a Challenge Lock on his store wherein he dared customers to open or pick it for 200 guineas. The challenge stood unconquered for 67 years until the Great Exhibition in 1851, when American locksmith Alfred Charles Hobbs opened the lock. 

  • Abraham O. Stansbury 
    Patented the First Double-Acting Pin Tumbler Lock

    Abraham O. Stansbury is a learned man, a physician, an ordained minister, an inventor, and also renowned for being one of the first superintendents of a school for the deaf in the United States. In 1805, he applied for a patent in England for his double-acting pin tumbler lock. His design was based on the ancient Egyptian locks and Joseph Bramah’s tubular lock. He also applied for a patent in the US, and they awarded him his patent in 1807.

  • The Yales (Linus Yale, Sr and Linus Yale, Jr.)
    The Advent of the Modern Yale Lock

    Inventor Linus Yale, Sr. crafted the modern pin tumbler lock, which is integral to modern-day door knobs. He applied for the patent in 1844 and had patent applications for a combination lock and various bank locks. In 1861, Linus Yale, Jr. invented and patented a smaller flat key having serrated edges working in tandem with pins of varied lengths in the lock itself. He was inspired by his father’s design, and this invention is one of the most widely-used components in modern-day locks and door knobs. 

  • Osbourn Dorsey
    Patented the First Door Closing Device

    Osbourne Dorsey’s door closing device was given patent number 210,764 on December 1878. His invention helped the American public afford the door knob, which, before his invention, was quite costly.

When was the first door knob invented?

Historians agree that the first door knob was invented by Osbourne Dorsey, a tinkerer from the state of Washington, in 1878. It was awarded patent 210,764 0n December 10, 1878, and his invention enabled people to install a cost-efficient door closing mechanism to help keep their houses and properties safe. Before his invention, it was pretty costly to have a mechanical door closing device, and people had to use latches and other similar mechanisms.

A brief history of door knobs

No one could pinpoint when the door knob was first invented and used in history. Throughout history, several iterations of a door locking mechanism have kept people and their properties relatively safe. The Egyptians had a simple wooden device attached to a door using a horizontal bolt with pins that could open and close it. Other people used a simple latch-string mechanism, a wrought-iron latch, or a cott latch. Other accounts state that some people used leather strips, wood for handles, and wooden bolts for added security. 

There were patents given to several mechanisms that helped secure doors. Still, most historians agree that the patent awarded to Osbourne Dorsey, an African-American inventor was the precursor to modern-day door knobs. Although other devices received patents for locking mechanisms, Dorsey’s improvement on the existing devices made it more affordable for people to install door knobs.

Improvements have been made to his invention, and other people have incorporated better locking mechanisms to help secure people and property. The door knob has come a long way from being a rather large device to a smaller, more conventional unit that most people overlook.

The door knob timeline

  1. 1787
    Joseph Bramah’s Challenge Lock and the Bramah Locks Company

    After attending a series of lectures on the technical aspect of the lock, Joseph Bramah invented his lock. He applied for a patent and received it, leading to the institution of the Bramah Locks Company, which became popular because of its tamper- and pick-resistant locks. They even displayed a Challenge Lock in their shop, which stood unopened for 67 years until American locksmith Alfred Charles Hobbs opened it after 51 hours of effort.

  2. 1805-1807
    Stansbury’s Double-Acting Pin Tumbler Lock

    In 1805, Abraham O. Stansbury applied for a patent for his invention of a double-acting pin tumbler lock in England. His design for the lock was inspired by the ancient Egyptian pin lock and Joseph Bramah’s tubular lock. Stansbury also applied for and received a patent for his invention in the United States in 1807.

  3. 1844-1861
    The Yale’s Contribution to Locks

    Linus Yale, Sr., applied for a patent on his pin tumbler lock, which is essential to modern-day door knobs, in 1844. He also had several patents approved for bank locks and combination locks. In 1861, his son, Linus Yale, Jr., applied for and received a patent for a smaller flat key with serrated edges that worked in unity with pins inside the lock. This invention comprises one of the most widely-used mechanisms in modern-day locks and door knobs. 

  4. 1878
    Osbourne Dorsey’s Door Closing Mechanism

    African-American inventor Osbourne Dorsey applied for a patent for his door closing mechanism, which significantly improved the accessibility and affordability of installing mechanical door devices and stoppers for the people. Before his invention, people used various ways to secure their homes and belongings. 

Where was the first door knob invented?

There’s no definitive place where the door knob was invented, as there have been several historical accounts detailing that door locks existed in Egyptian and Roman times. However, the first documented door knob was invented and patented in Washington, District of Columbia, in 1878 by African-American tinkerer and inventor Osbourne Dorsey.

The importance of the first door knob

  • Origins of modern-day door knobs

    The invention of the first door knob became one of the bases for modern-day door knobs. Inventors continued to improve the design and features that helped make the door knob one of the most ubiquitous architectural materials.

  • Improved on existing door latching device

    Before Dorsey’s invention, people had to make do with expensive or makeshift locks to keep their properties and persons safe and secure. 

  • Helped make door knobs accessible to the public

    Dorsey’s invention made the door latching device more affordable to the public. Although it took some time for people to appreciate the device’s functionality, it gained traction after a few years and is now an essential aspect of house architecture. 

  • Kept people safer and more secure about their environment

    While makeshift door locks and stoppers worked wonders, they still weren’t enough to keep people and valuables completely safe. Dorsey’s door knob improved the situation by giving the public peace of mind that they had secure doors.

The door knob by the numbers

  • 2.25 in This number is the diameter of the average door knob. A door knob includes the shank, the knob rose, spindle and shank-top.  
  • 1878This was the year when African-American tinkerer and inventor Osbourne Dorsey applied for and received a patent for his improved door latching mechanism.
  • 35 According to different industry sources, there are 35 types of door knobs available in the market today. These door knob types differ in shape, materials, and aesthetics.
  • Grades 1 to 3The grades refer to the safety of the door knobs. Grade 1 provides the safest and most durable level of security, while Grade 2 offers an intermediate level of protection. Meanwhile, grade 3 locks provide the least or most basic level of security. 

Five facts about the door knob

  • The main components of a door knob

    Six major components comprise a door knob. These are the rose or the rosette, the lock cylinder, the spindle, the latch assembly and spring bolt, the deadlocking plunger and the strike plate.

  • Brass door knobs can disinfect themselves

    Certain types of brass door knobs can disinfect themselves after eight hours. This is due to the oligodynamic effect, which means the metal ions affect microbes on the surface of the metal and thus eliminate them.

  • There was a boon in door knob patents during the period 1830-1873

    According to patent filing records, during 1830-1873, there were 100 patents filed and granted for improvements to door knobs and lock mechanisms.

  • Door knobs have become controversial

    In 2013, Vancouver banned door knobs because it didn’t support the idea of universal design, which called for environments which should be usable by a majority regardless of age or capacity rather than adapted to meet the needs of the elderly or the disabled.

  • Door knobs are now more advanced

    Technology has greatly improved the security features for door knobs and locks. For example, there are now door knobs which incorporate infrared remotes, keypads and other features.

FAQ about door knobs

  • How are door knobs classified?

    There are three grades for door knobs. Grade 1 provides the most reliable security level. Grade 2 offers an intermediate security level, while Grade 3 provides the most basic level of security. 

  • How long does a door knob usually last?

    Your typical door knob has an average lifespan of seven to ten years. You should look at it periodically to find out if it needs maintenance. 

  • Does door knob size matter?

    Yes. The right door knob size will matter. Most door knobs measure around 2 3/8 inches or 2 ¾ inches in diameter and are appropriate for doors which are 1 3/8 to 1 ¾ inches thick. 

  • Can you reverse door knobs?

    Yes, door knobs are reversible. However, common sense dictates that the part with the lock would be placed inside.

  • Can you paint door knobs?

    The answer is yes. You can paint a doorknob, but you shouldn’t do so because sanding or altering knobs for aesthetic purposes will compromise the structure. 

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