Examining builders hardware past, present, and future

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Michael Tierney
Locks, latches, deadbolts, and hinges are nothing new to those in the building construction industry. However, in the United States, recent legislation and rapid advances in technology have led to major innovations for the hardware industry, especially over the last 30 years.

In fact, it was not until the early 1900s that the first major advancement in hardware occurred. At this point in history, it was common practice for building owners to lock exit doors as a means of preventing workers from committing theft or taking unauthorized breaks. Ultimately, this practice of locking workers in contributed to hundreds of deaths, since these blocked exits trapped employees inside when building fires broke out.

Identifying that ease of egress was a major problem for facilities during this time, Carl Prinzler—the manager of the builders hardware department at Vonnegut Hardware Company—sought a way for doors into public facilities to be locked from the outside while allowing egress from the inside, with minimal effort during an emergency. As a result, the first model of a ‘panic bar’-style egress device was introduced in 1908, making it the first hardware of its kind to improve building safety and prevent senseless deaths.

Door hardware, and the standards and codes governing these components, have evolved over the decades. All photos courtesy iStock
Door hardware, and the standards and codes governing these components, have evolved over the decades.
All photos courtesy iStock

This invention eventually led to a national standard for exit devices, which was one of the first standards for builders hardware ever to be published. The standard—A156.3, Exit Devices—was developed by the Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA) and published by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in 1969. (In accordance with building codes, and as part of BHMA’s ongoing mission to protect and secure the welfare, safety and common good of the public, it is continually updated.)

The next major event for builders hardware was the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. This created the need for many updates and changes to U.S. building codes, and required nondiscrimination based on disability by public accommodations and in commercial facilities. This meant all new and existing public buildings had to improve their accessibility, which had significant impact on many types of builders hardware.

For example, the act mandated that public buildings have door hardware that could be operable using only one hand, without requiring a person to tightly grasp, pinch, or twist the wrist. This resulted in the adoption of lever handles in place of traditional doorknobs. Today, 25 years after ADA was passed, it is not only common to see levers used in commercial buildings, but in homes and residential high-rises, as well. Widespread use of low-power and power-assist doors also resulted from the act; the performance and safety standards for these products are covered in ANSI/BHMA A156.19, Power Assist & Low Energy Operated Doors.

But if this marks the past of builders hardware, where is the industry now? And where is it going?

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2 comments on “Examining builders hardware past, present, and future”

  1. I love being in the door hardware industry. 911 changed the face of the industry more than any other event in history. As a former chemistry and physics teacher, I can tell you that door hardware is more challenging because of the vastness of application. With innovation and code compliance it is truly a fluid industry. I find that my clients either love it or hate it. I get to love it for them! Enjoyed the article, have a great day.

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