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February 14, 2018

Did You Know: The Man Who Invented the Revolving Door Because He Hated Opening Doors for Women?

In the late 1800s, Theophilus van Kannel supposedly designed a revolving door because he hated chivalry. He didn't like to parry with other men over who should enter or exit a door first. Even worse, he hated to open doors for women.

Large revolving door with a central display case (counter-clockwise rotation). Revolving door is flanked on both sides by conventional doors with arrows pointing inward towards the preferred entry. (Image: Wikipedia)

Improving upon German inventor H. Bockhacker's patent for a “door without draft of air,” Theophilus van Kannel received a patent for a “storm-door structure,” later called a “revolving door,” in 1888.

Patent drawing by Theophilus Van Kannel for a "storm-door structure", 1888.

H. Bockhacker's patent in Berlin for a “Thür ohne Luftzug” (“draftless door”).

He set up his own company, the Van Kannel Revolving Door Co., to manufacture his product. In 1907, Van Kannel sold it to International Steel (known today as the International Revolving Door Co.)

Although not much is known about Van Kannel's life, there's an interesting rumor concerning the inspiration behind his invention: He disliked the chivalrous act of holding open doors so ladies could pass through them. Thus, he spent most of his adult life focused on the invention, improvement and installation of revolving doors.

1875 photograph of Theophilus Van Kannel with his wife Amanda and daughter Lulu.

Van Kannel was recognized for his invention both during his lifetime and posthumously. In 1889, he received Philadelphia's John Scott Medal for his invention's usefulness to society. In 2007, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

The revolving door is not Van Kannel's only claim to fame. He also invented the Witching Waves ride at Coney Island. The ride, which was installed in 1907, featured two-person seats that moved along an undulating metal floor.

Undated photograph of Theophilus Van Kannel.

Van Kannel died in 1919 at age 78, but his revolving doors live on. Today, the doors have been paired with metal- and chemical-detection technology, and have become an important security feature in airports and detention centers. Some revolving doors even feature facial-recognition surveillance systems.



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