Legend has it the man who invented the garage is also the man who invented the American car and the American car company. We forget how long ago it was, but Henry Ford was born when Abraham Lincoln was still present. He went on to found the Ford Motor Company and free the assembly line and mass production to the automobile.
The young Henry Ford was working in a neighbors coal shed in 1896 on an engine to power a horseless carriage, which he called his quadricycle. It was really nothing more than a buggy frame on bicycle wheels with a little three or 4 hp motor. And the garage was born when he realized he couldn’t get his new contraption out of the coal shed. So he knocked out a section of a brick wall and installed was possibly the very first garage door.
Garage history really begins with the mass adoption of the American automobile. We already had carriage houses and stables or similar structures, so we had a template to work from. Of course, the first thing people tried was putting their automobiles into the carriage houses were stables they already had, but that was not a good solution. Not only were the dimensions all wrong but the horses were not fond of their new neighbor.
People started adding garages to their homes and estates, and realized what they’d really added was utility space. In addition, that the automobile was a new idea. People couldn’t see building a structure just to house it. They wanted to do something else with their space as well. As a result, many early garages were not just housing for cars, but workshops and even libraries or studios. For the first few decades the garage was the province of the well-to-do. After all, even those who could afford an automobile could not necessarily afford to put up a building just to store it in times of inclement weather.
For car owners in big cities, huge multicar parking garages did the job. Those who didn’t have access to those or lived in houses without a stable carriage house would usually set up a portable garage or carport or buy a prefab garage. Until the 1940s, you could even by prefab garages right out of the Sears and Roebuck catalog. One interesting note is that garage was nearly always kept some distance from the house, primarily because there was not yet a network of gasoline stations. So most automobile owners stored gas in bulk in the garage with the car. The fire hazard is obvious.
The advent of the integrated garage
So how did the garage migrate from the back of the lot to the front of the house? Well, once a network of gasoline stations were on every corner, we no longer had to store our own gas so the fear of fire was not a factor. It didn’t take long for everyone to figure out that walking down the driveway with a big bag of groceries was not nearly as easy as popping out of the car and stepping directly into the kitchen.
Nowadays, a freestanding home without a garage will suffer in comparison to its neighbors. Especially for those of us who live in areas where snow can be an issue, the garage is a real lifesaver. In addition to providing additional living space, room for a workout or display area for your most prized possessions.