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If you’ve ever driven through Levittown, Long Island, you’ve seen the epitome of post-World War II housing. Designed for young parents birthing the baby boomer generation, the Levittown homes were built on the principles of manufactured housing built for the military, but incorporated the “must haves” of postwar life: large patios. , modern appliances, television antenna and other amenities. Promotional photos for Levittown over a period of years show that the garage’s evolution followed major trends in the changing American lifestyle.

Close-up house plans from the 1940s show Cape Cod-style boxy houses with a living room, dining room, bathroom, and two bedrooms. There were no access roads: the only car owned by most of the families was parked on the street. By 1950, the company’s brochure offered five houses in a modified Cape Cod/Ranch style, each with a driveway leading to a single attached garage. And in Levittown’s sister suburb, Pennsylvania, in 1954, developers unveiled a variety of homes that incorporated the latest in home design: an enclosed garage.

Today, if you drive through even the most moderate suburban neighborhood, you’re likely to see a massive two- or three-car garage that opens directly onto the street, with living quarters stretching behind and above. The garage has become the facade of the modern American home.

The growth in importance of the garage has coincided with the presence of more and more cars in the typical American family. When Henry Ford lowered the price of his Model T so that “the workers who build them can buy them,” the option of owning a car became a reality for low-income families, and during the 1910s through the 1930s ownership of automobiles grew steadily.

Car sales plummeted as World War II limited both revenue and the availability of raw materials, but millions more women learned to drive while serving in positions formerly held by the military. By the time the subdivision building boom began shortly after the war, almost any young couple could afford an $8,000 house and an $800 pickup truck. Usually, after driving her husband to the suburban train station, the housewife would use the car to shop and run errands. (African-American and other minority families, including Jews in many suburbs, were barred from housing opportunities by restrictive covenants in the North and Jim Crow laws in the South. But that’s another story.)

Soon, however, one car wasn’t enough: Dad wanted the family car, and Mom needed her own. In the 1960s, it was not uncommon for a teenager to get a vehicle, often a grandparent’s old car, for their 16th birthday. Instead of parking on the street or under a single driveway, a family now needed at least minus a double garage plus space to park a third or even a fourth vehicle. Today, in addition to a two-car garage (or, more likely, a car plus attic clutter), many suburban and rural homes include an oversized add-on garage for the RV.

Garage doors have also changed. Early ones from the late 19th century were simply barn doors that allowed a farmer to bring a horse-drawn carriage into the garage for loading and unloading or storage out of the weather. They hinged outward or rolled sideways on steel tracks like a sliding closet door and were used for mechanized vehicles (tractors, cars, and trucks) as they became more widespread. The coach houses, originally built by the wealthy for horses and carriages, also began to house automobiles.

In the early 1920s, as more and more middle-class families could afford the Model T, a modified version of the garage appeared. Usually a small shed (often only eight or ten feet wide), the garage was not wide enough for a sliding door. A single hinged door would be too heavy and ungainly to move, so a split-hinged door was used instead, each one half a meter or four feet wide and seven or eight feet high. These old wooden doors can still be seen in rural areas; they often look homemade, with small crystals and one-by-six-inch diagonal cross straps in the front. But their weight put a lot of pressure on the hinges, screws, and frame, and when there was snow on the ground, it had to be shoveled away before the doors could be opened.

The invention of the hinged (folding) door was the first real innovation in garage doors. A door divided into vertical sections on hinges could slide or recede into the garage itself. In 1921, Mr. CG Johnson designed a horizontally hinged up-and-over garage door. Lifted from below, the gate rolled up and out of the way, each section leveling as it followed the curve of parallel steel rails. Five years later, Johnson invented the electric opener to help weak people lift the heavy door. Johnson’s company became the Overhead Door Corporation, which remains a leading manufacturer of garage doors.

Later developments included the slab door raised on a strong track and doors using lightweight materials such as Styrofoam insulated steel and steel alloys and fiberglass that roll into a compact space – the roll-up security doors that are they see in many companies today.

Along with changes in technology came changes in styling. As garages were gradually incorporated into homes, that is, moving from a separate building to one attached to part of the structure itself, the look and palette of garage doors evolved. No longer limited to the red-stained barn door pattern or white paint of early 20th century design, they began to echo French Provincial, English Manor, Colonial, and California Ranch homes, among other popular architectural styles.

Far from being an outbuilding or an afterthought, the modern garage is as much a part of the typical American home as a living room and kitchen. And, in keeping with that status, garage doors today come in all the materials and styles preferred by homeowners: traditional wood, with or without glass inserts and with or without resin impregnation, articulated steel and alloys, fiberglass. , vinyl and aluminum siding.

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