When you close your eyes and picture a house, does it have a garage? Most people would say yes, as the garage has been a major part of the American home for over half a century. But today, those basic carports are undergoing some creative renovations that are seemingly limitless. But how exactly did the garage come into existence? What is the history and evolution of one of today’s most creatively utilized rooms?
The word “garage” comes from the French word “garer” which means “to shelter.” In fact, the first garages were called carriage or coach houses and were built to protect the horse-drawn carriage and its gear. With the creation of the automobile in the late 1890s by French and German companies, manufacturing of American automobiles began around 1900 and within a few years the automobile became common in most wealthier homes. As the carriages began to be replaced by automobiles, the carriage house became the garage as we know it today.
Early automobile enthusiasts were usually wealthy and inspired by the day’s technology. They were so enthused they built pits beneath their garages to better work under their cars. As Henry Ford and others worked to mass produce the automobile, they were able to increase the volume while lowering the cost, and starting in 1912, when Ford’s Model T sold for $575, they were able to sell 15 million by 1927 and lower the price to $290. With the automobile becoming more commonplace, professional mechanics took over the repairs and the pit in the garages became obsolete.
After seeing the automobile and garages growing in popularity, a man named C.G. Johnson
invented the overhead door in 1921. Then, in 1924, he invented the electric garage-door opener. Despite the huge impact the automobile was having on the US, garages remained detached from the house until the 1950s. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the electric door opener finally gained mainstream popularity--a mere 50 years after its invention.
Fast forward to the 1980’s and 90’s and nearly every house in the suburbs had an attached garage with an electric door opener, with multiple cars. Because of the advances in paints and the use of plastics and aluminum, cars didn’t rust like they used to, allowing cars to be passed down to teenagers and take up even more garage space. As the driving population increased, people started owning more cars than garage spaces. Utilizing the garage as a parking spot became less important and that extra space began to inspire its use in other ways. The garage saw more use as workshops, home gyms and, once the 70s music hit the airwaves, a practice venue for high school garage bands. These spaces were also the birthplace of some of today’s most innovative companies. In the 90’s, two companies followed in the footprints of Apple in 70s and started their new businesses in their garages. Today, Apple, Google and Amazon are leaders in their industries and part of the American culture. And they all started in garages.
Today, garages are utilized less for parking and more for creative spaces of all sorts. So much so that 82% of Americans use their garage for something other than parking their car and 24% don’t use it all for their car. Garages have evolved from the basic carport to art studios, entertainment rooms, home offices, gyms and everything else in between. It’s as if they’re becoming less of a “garage” and more like another room in the house. And with 75% of all new housing units being built with a garage, it’s safe to say they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. And I personally can’t wait to see all of the creative and imaginative uses that people come up with.