Most people only think about hinges when they are staring at a pesky, painted-over door hinge, trying to remove the pin so they can move a new piece of furniture into the room. But even then, the most attention the hinge probably gets is a few choice curse words. How poor we treat the hinge, especially since some historians consider it an invention on par with the wheel. The simple hinge has simply changed our lives.
The most basic hinge, the pivot hinge, was in use in by 1600 BCE (Before Common Era), based on archeological evidence from the ancient city of Hattusa. The pivot hinge is simply a post that rests in a socket or ring of stone, wood, or metal. This basic hinge design allows a door to swing fully open in both directions, or be blocked on one side to stop. Because of this feature, pivot hinges have been passed down through history and are still around everywhere, though in slightly fancier form. Saloon-style doors and bathroom stall doors are often mounted by pivot hinges.
By the beginning of the Common Era, Romans were the most proficient with hinges and had downsized the hinge from a massive piece of hardware to on that would work inside the home on cabinet doors and boxes. The Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians were also using hinges, but they were not as sophisticated as the Roman hinges, nor as sized down, and they were most always used for large doorways and other entryways such as city gates. No one knows when pivot hinges evolved to the strap hinges of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, but that evolution brought hinges one giant step closer to the hinges of today.
Advances in metalworking seem to have made a big difference in hinge development. All archeologists have discovered is that pivot posts and sockets were eventually reinforced with metal and several centuries later, cast iron strap hinges became common. Early examples of this type of hinge can be seen throughout Europe. You can also see how the simple strap hinge became more ornate. By the 1600s, smithies were busy forging many items for household use, among this list were a variety of hinges.
The settlement of the West brought on even more demand for hinges for all of the new homestead-building. Even the “tailgate” of the iconic Conestoga wagon relied on hinges as did the toolbox sometimes mounted on the side of the wagon. Initially, the blacksmiths were concerned with production and quality. Eventually, they had more time to create items that were both functional and esthetically pleasing.
Most of today’s hinges developed from refinements of the basics of these simple designs. A common door hinge has open rings (sockets) on both the door and the frame and a pin (post) that runs through the rings. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it still uses the basic physics of the original pivot hinge developed over 3500 years ago.