Why Is It Called a Garage? (History and Other Info)

Ever wonder how garages become to be what they are today?

The word garage, introduced to English in 1902, originates from the French word garer, meaning shelter. (“to keep under cover, dock, shunt, guard, keep”) 

Let’s explore a little bit of garage history.

Who Invented the Garage?

That question is not so simple.

The garage is an integral part of the modern home, but it was not always so. The modern garage is only a little over one century old. Like all sorts of architecture, it has its own unique story.

Before cars were conceived, most homes had an outhouse for housing the horse-drawn carriage. These carriage houses were often simplistic structures with dirt floors, four walls, and a swinging set of doors that were prone to falling off their hinges.

Sometimes the carriage was stored in a barn along with the horses. Sometimes the horse shared the carriage house with the carriage. Either way, things were kind of chaotic.

When cars came along, it did not take long for people to start looking around for someplace to store the car out of the elements. Many older cars did not even have a roof, so finding a shelter was an important factor for a proud, new automobile owner.

At first, cars often went into the carriage house or barn along with the horse. Because it took a couple of decades before horses were completely out-of-date as an essential means of transportation, and many people still had horses, even after they bought a car.

Needless to say, this combination was not very satisfactory for anyone – the horse, the car, or the owner. It was not long before people realized they needed a new kind of storehouse dedicated to automobiles’ storage.

By about 1912, architects all over were hailing the invention of this new kind of outbuilding’ and calling it a garage, a word derived from the French word garer, which means to shelter or protect.

E. Keynes Purchase, “honorary architect” to what was to become the Royal Automobile Club, did a lot of work on them and recommended in The Car Illustrated in 1902 that they be of brick construction with cement floor, an inspection pit, good electric lighting and a pulley system for removing parts of the car (in the early days of motoring many car owners were mechanical and engineering enthusiasts). As it is today.

Who Invented the Upward-Acting Garage Door and Electric Opener?

As the automobiles worked their way to the world, the first garages were similar to modern-day parking garages, but only on one level. Because cars were considered an extravagance item, very few people had them. They kept their vehicles in these communal parking garages. But these kinds of public garages, even with heating and maintenance added, were still not very convenient for the car owners because they were not right at the person’s home.

It was not long until private garages started replacing the old carriage houses.

Increasingly, car owners began storing their cars closer to what we know of garages today, a small carriage house close to home. Unlike modern garages, the originals had a double door attached to the garage with strap hinges and opened outward. These doors suffered heavy wear and tear from being opened regularly and were almost inoperable when blocked by snow or mud.

Overhead Door Corporation’s founder, C.G. Johnson.

In 1921, Overhead Door Corporation founder C.G. Johnson invented the solution to solve this garage door issue — the first upward-acting garage door.

The door was manufactured with hinged panels that could bend as the door lifted. This was a significant advancement over the old carriage house doors.

The overhead garage door was still heavy and laborious to lift. So five years later, the same Mr. Johnson invented the first electric garage door opener.

This brought power into the garage, along with lights and a new idea of how the garage could also double up as a home workspace. Garages started getting more important and bigger.

A tragic point in garages’ history was that early electric doors did not retract if they closed onto something. Sometimes, something was a pet or a child, and between 1974 and 1995, 85 children had died in garage door accidents.

A nation-wide law was then passed, ordering that all overhead garage doors have photoelectric and pressure sensors that make the door reopen if it encounters an obstacle while closing. As a result, accidental deaths involving garage doors have become rare.

When did Garages Became Common?

The first planned private garages appeared long before 1900.

Many garages from before 1914 were pre-built, typically by companies such as Norwich manufacturer Boulton & Paul Ltd. The style was usually in keeping with that of the house and its neighborhood, but they were mostly timber construction, and few have survived to date.

  • The first recorded public parking garage in the U.S. was built in and opened in Boston, May 24, 1898
  • In the U.K. in 1900
  • And in Germany in 1901.
1918 with the Hotel La Salle Garage in Chicago. Considered the first multistorey parking garage in the U.S.

Why Are Old Garages So Small?

Older garages are usually small by modern standards. It was common to build them just big enough to accommodate the car, leaving a little space for the owner to pinch in through the door.

By the 1960s, the average family could afford more than one car, so garages extended. In fact, during this time, the average American garage accounted for an incredible 45 percent of the square footage of the entire home.

Why Were Garages Detached Historically?

Garages were first detached for both practical and social reasons. Since many early garages were converted from carriage houses, these buildings were already detached and located to the yard’s backside, so it was only common to store the automobile away from the house.

The early detached garages were also often accessed from a shared alley that ran parallel to the houses’ street. This was done to ensure that cars and the garage did not interfere with the visual presentation and social importance of the house’s front. At that time, most homes were designed with a large front porch used as a gathering place and a point of social function with people on the footpath.

Are Garages Usually Insulated?

Unless the owner explicitly asks and pays to have the garage insulated during construction, the exterior walls of an attached garage and all detached garage walls are usually not insulated.

There are always exceptions, such as with a heated or cooled garage. Still, otherwise, only the interior walls of an attached garage shared with the living spaces of the home are insulated. These internal walls are insulated to save energy, seal off the home’s interior from car exhaust fumes and carbon monoxide, and provide a fire-rated barrier to help stop the fire spread from the garage to the house.

Are Garages Usually Ventilated?

Garage ventilation requirements differ by country, state, and municipality. In most areas, garage vents are not required by the building codes, and thus most garages are not vented. For those municipalities that require garage vents, they are usually located toward the garage’s vehicle entry side and down low, toward the floor of the garage.

This is because gasoline fumes and vapors from other flammable materials are heavier than air and sink toward the floor.

Are Garages Considered Habitable Spaces?

In most areas, garages do not need to be built to the same terms and criteria as the home’s living spaces do and are thus not considered habitable spaces.

Converting a garage into a living space requires alterations and upgrades to meet the local building codes’ minimum requirements for living spaces.

This usually includes modifications to the insulation in the exterior walls and ceiling, the addition of windows and lighting, providing a source of warmth, and installing electrical outlets that meet the height and spacing specifications of the building codes in your region.

Why are Garages Unfinished?

Most garages are left unfinished to save money when building a home. Since garages are usually used to store vehicles, garden tools, sports equipment, and other stuff. Most homeowners have no need for them to be finished.

For car enthusiasts and homeowners, and DIY who appreciate having the garage look as clean and finished as their home’s interior, a garage can be updated either during construction or many years later for an added cost.

What’s the Difference Between a Carport and Garage?

In very basic terms, a garage is most often considered as an enclosed building with a roof, walls, and doors.

A carport, by comparison, is usually considered as a partially closed structure that has a roof or other form of top covering and is open on two or more sides. Carports are much easier to build and offer significant cost savings when compared to a garage.

Being open spaces, carports do not provide the same protection level from the elements, nor are they as safe as a garage, which can be locked and shielded from undesirable guests.

Entrepreneurship and Garages

We have seen how big companies like Apple, Google, Disney Company, and Amazon started from a garage. Using the garage as a first company headquarters and generating ideas has helped many people to start.

They served as early workshops for the products and services for these companies as well as many other ones. The ease of working from home and getting inspiration in their own houses kindled the thinking process of these entrepreneurs, while the relative solitude and peace of the garage gave them enough space to imagine. Hence, they came up with innovative ideas that gained popularity and are now worth billions.

Garages have been transformed into studios, apartments, workspaces, and man caves. As history tends to repeat itself, we have even seen some modern garages being built to replicate the past’s carriage houses.

How to Say Garage in Different Languages

By 1908 the architect Charles Harrison Townsend was commenting in The Builder magazine that “for the home of the car, we very largely use the French word ‘garage,’ alternatively with what I think the more desirable English equivalent of ‘motor house.’

LanguageWays to say garage
Bulgarian гараж
Catalan garatge
Corsican garage
Croatian garaža
Czech garáž
Danish garage
Dutch garage
Esperanto garaĝo
Estonian garaaž
Filipino garahe
French garage
Frisian garaazje
Galician garaxe
German Garage
Greek γκαράζ
Hawaiian kaʻahi
Hungarian garázs
Icelandic bílskúr
Indonesian garasi
Italian box auto
Latin garage
Latvian garāža
Lithuanian garažas
Macedonian Гаража
Malagasy garazy
Malay garaj
Maltese garaxx
Norwegian garasje
Polish garaż
Portuguese garagem
Romanian garaj
Russian гараж
Serbian гаража
Slovak garáž
Slovenian garaža
Spanish garaje
Swedish garage
Turkish garaj
Ukrainian гараж
Uzbek garaj
Yiddish garage
Hebrew מוסך

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