Blake Fire and Security Systems

The History of Roller Shutters Doors

Date: 3 January 2023

Roller shutters doors have certainly come a long way. Today, they come in a variety of colours and, at the press of a button, you can make one open or close.

Connect it to a fire alarm system, and it'll close automatically in the event of a fire.

They're something you'll find pretty much anywhere, in both commercial and domestic settings.

And yet, you've probably never once thought about their history. Until now!

For roller shutters doors as we know them today, you don't have to go too far back in time. But for the world's first automatic door, that's a very different story.

The world's first automatic door

Heron (also called Hero) of Alexandria was a Greek-Egyptian mathematician, engineer and inventor living and working in Roman Egypt in the 1st century AD.

A man of exceptional talents, his inventions included a coin-operated 'holy water dispenser', a water organ, and even a fire engine. But it was his automatic temple door opener that truly amazed those who saw it.

Invention number 37, as he described it in his writings, was powered by a fire altar and hydraulic system.

With a fire lit in front of the temple doors, a chamber hidden beneath contained pipes that heated up. This heat then built up pressure in a soldered vessel filled with water.

As pressure gradually increased, water began flowing into a second soldered vessel. This second vessel had a series of ropes, weights, and pulleys connected to the temple's two door posts. And once the water made it heavy enough, the mechanism would open the doors as if by magic.

From animal hides to wooden slats

For millennia, people have found ways to keep out the cold and wet while keeping in the warmth.

Animal hides were the first materials used to cover doorways and other openings. Strong and hard-wearing, they offered enough flexibility to pull aside. And quite possibly rolled up and tied as a forerunner to the roller shutter idea.

The first use of a wooden shutter in Britain was probably in the Medieval period. Made from solid wood planks and reinforced with an iron bar, these window shutters provided some valuable protection against intruders and the weather.

But it was from the late 1500s and early 1600s when glass became more widely used in Britain.

Glass was expensive, and so was only a gradual process. Meaning wooden shutters remained a popular option for many people.

Although called a shutter, they were yet to resemble today's modern roller shutter. For that, we need to fast-forward to the late 19th century and the Aadorf district of Switzerland.

In 1882, Anton Griesser filed a patent for his first design of a roller shutter. His design resembled a modern roller shutter although it was made with moveable individual wooden slats. It proved popular and was soon seen fitted in homes and businesses throughout Switzerland.

Image courtesy of DX3 Fire & Security

The arrival of Steel and Aluminium

Steel had been around for thousands of years, but in 1856, Sir Henry Bessemer – inventor and engineer - changed the way it was made. His new Bessemer process meant steel could now finally be mass produced.

Aluminium, however, was a totally new metal first discovered in 1825 by Hans Christian Ørsted, a Danish physicist. By 1856, a French chemist called Henri Étienne Sainte-Claire Deville had made the first industrial production of aluminium. But it was expensive and its price exceeded that of gold.

Towards the end of the 1800s, new production methods helped reduce the costs of aluminium considerably. These new processes – the Hall-Héroult process, and the Bayer process – are still used today.

New developments in both steel and aluminium production meant roller shutters were now easier to make.
commercial roller shutters

From garage doors to worldwide energy crisis

1926 saw the invention of the up-and-over garage door mechanism. An ingenious design, it was quickly adapted for use in roller shutters. Helping make them easier to operate. In the coming decades, there were further innovations for roller shutter fixings and components.

Although there was a steady demand across the world for roller shutters, that demand increased dramatically in the 1970s.

Many factories and warehouses still found themselves using large, draughty old wooden sliding and revolving doors to move goods and equipment through. But the 70s was a decade gripped by a worldwide energy crisis that brought with it soaring energy costs.

And so with heat and money being rapidly lost through draughty old wooden doors, business owners realised it was time to find a more modern and better insulated alternative.

This rapid demand led to a boom in new roller shutters manufacturers across the globe.

Roller Shutters Doors: today and beyond

To get to Anton Griesser's original wooden shutter design of 1882 took many centuries. But Griesser's design changed everything and set the course for how roller shutters doors would look today. Although still mostly made of steel or aluminium, polycarbonate is one new material currently used.

As for the future, creating new composite materials will undoubtedly continue. Helping make shutters stronger, lighter and better insulated. Already there are roller shutters with solar panels fitted, enabling them to operate from the electricity they produce.

Connectivity is another area that is fast evolving. Electronic timers and sensors have been around for many years. And now roller shutters can be operated from your smartphone.

While for areas where high security is required, fingerprint, facial recognition, and iris scanners can also form part of a roller shutter's control and access system.

Although the materials used in its construction may have evolved, its principal design remains much the same as it did 140 years ago. And it's that same functionality combined with new materials, components and controls that will ensure the roller shutter has an assured future.

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This blog post is provided for general information only. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. Call Blake's on 01702 447800 to speak to one of our professionals for specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content on our site.

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