A Brief History Of The Door Handle

Doors: not a rock band from the 1960's, but a way to create partitioned privacy, security and protection from the elements. The humble door as we know it today goes back to the ancient Egyptians. The first types of doors were rudimentary screens. Fur and skins, tapestries, wooden planks and stone blocks - these needed to be physically moved out of the way. But as civilisations grew and engineering projects were embraced, door handles became an inevitable invention.

Ancient & Medieval Doors

egyptian and ancient door coverings
  • Ancient Egyptian period (from approx 3000BC) has art depicting doors made out of slabs of wood and cloth hangings. We can also thank the ancient Egyptians for the invention of the door lock - the basic pin tumbler lock still in use today - which they made entirely out of wood.
  • King Solomon (970 - 931 BC) had temple doors made from olive wood.
  • Greek & Roman civilisations, uncovered by archeologists, used door hinges very similar to those used today. There are Roman door hinges made from bronze in the British Museum.
  • Middle Ages (500-1500 AD) saw people generally living in one big room with little need for internal doors. But for safety from raiding soldiers households secured themselves and their belongings by barring the external doorway with heavy beams of oak. During the day doors were left open to allow for ventilation for fires and cooking. Locks were not in general use during this period due to expense.
  • From the late 1500's, Royals and wealthy gentry built palaces and homes with individual rooms. Doors for privacy were made from woven tapestries initially, and then wooden doors came into general use, hung from basic hand-forged strap hinges. Prior to the invention of martice locks, bolts were used and these were fixed into stonework. The poor still used textile hangings and rudimentary wooden partitions, but as the centuries progressed, and with improvements in the mass production of items, the less affluent were able to afford a range of door furniture, including metalwork door latches.

Medieval door latch


  • The modern era, from the Industrial Revolution onwards, saw the rise of mass manufacturing and consumerism. As handle and knob prices came down, more people could afford to update their homes. It was during this period of history when handles and door knobs became an essential practical feature.
Vintage door knobs and door handles

What did people use before door handles?

Before door knobs and handles were invented, people used a bolt or a lock to keep a door shut. Only the wealthy could afford a lock and key. Most people used a latch-string, which involved making a small hole in a door and threading a leather thong or string through, which was then looped around a wooden bar.

ancient door bolt and door handle

First Locking Door Knob

The first patent for a door knob and internal door latching mechanism was given in 1878 to an African American inventor called Osborn Dorsey. In Britain, locksmiths Robert Barron, Joseph Bramah and Jeremiah Chubb were also involved in designs for the modern lever tumbler locks. Chubb's lock was patented in 1818.

Door Furniture as Decoration

With the Industrial Revolution and the availability of different materials, door knob and door handle styles evolved from functional to decorative. The range of different designs expanded in line with interior design trends and incorprated movements such as Art Deco, Minimalist, as well as a revival of older period styles including Tudor and Georgian.

Vintage Inspiration For Your Doors

Here at Suffolk Latch Company, we have a wide range of victorian door handles and locks that are perfect for giving vintage style to your home. Choose from door knobs and door handles in authentic period designs.

Door Knobs

The Beehive Door Knobs design is originally from the Georgian era. Beehive door knobs were used widely in Georgian and Victorian homes. These wooden knobs and antique brass knobs are perfect for period properties and they also work well in modern homes wanting to inject some vintage detail.


Beehive Door Knobs Wooden door knobs Antique brass door knobs


Door Handles

Lever handles came into popular use during the 1900s, but there are many examples of door handle designs before this period and some can be found as early as the Tudor period. Although door knobs were the most popular choice for Georgian and Victorian homes, lever handles are a good option if you have young or elderly family members. Lever handles are also the best choice for exterior doors as they offer an integrated lock profile to compliment fitting with a 5 lever or a Euro profile cylinder lock. Choose handles in black and pewter to replicate vintage door handle designs.

Vintage door handle designs



In case you missed it...


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published


  • JAECO on Oct 05, 2023

    I had no idea the door handle had such a rich history! The Suffolk Latch Company’s article provides a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of this everyday essential. It’s amazing how a simple device has evolved over centuries.

  • Catherine on Oct 31, 2022

    I have 2 door pulls hand stitched by my Grandmother circa 1910. Once is approx 2.5 ft and the other is 4 foot. I cannot find any other online hand stitched, all are metal. Can you be of any help of where to find others? Thanks you much.

  • Well HardWare on Apr 04, 2022

    This is great info to know. I really like to be active Thanks for sharing.

  • Suffolk Latch Company on Sep 27, 2021

    Hi Eric, we aren’t sure when waist high door knobs were standardised specifically, however most door furniture trends that we are familiar with today were popularised during the Georgian/Victorian eras. Hope that helps!

  • Eric on Sep 27, 2021

    When did waist height door knobs get standardized?

Shop The Article
Pewter door furniture - Straight Lever Handles Pewter Lock Bathroom Latch
Monkey Tail Lever Handles
pewter effect internal door handles - cottage lever latch lock and bathroom door handles
Colonial Reeded Round Rose Door Handles, lever on rose handles
Delta Square Rose Door Handles, modern lever on rose
Beehive door knobs solid brass also known as brass beehive door handles and solid brass door knobs