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ANSWERED on Fri 21 Sep 2007 - 7:34 pm UTC by Bobbie Sevens

Question: Automatic Doors

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 21 Sep 2007 13:18 UTCFri 21 Sep 2007 - 1:18 pm UTC 

Automatic doors use power to open and close. Most North American large grocery stores have them as standard access. I would like to know the history of when they came into use and how long did it take for automatic doors to become a standard entrance used in commercial retail design.

Thank you.


Bobbie Sevens 


 21 Sep 2007 19:34 UTCFri 21 Sep 2007 - 7:34 pm UTC 

Hello Brudenell,

The first automatic doors were invented by Heron of Alexandria aka Hero, a great mathematician and mechanics inventor.

"Automation, as it turned out, was not a new concept. A Greek inventor named Heron (or Hero) already contemplated the notion some 2,000 years ago. He alone created the world's first automatic doors, the world's first vending machine, and the world's first steam engine. His innovations helped to pave the road that eventually led to the comfort that we are now taking for granted."
Ed Helper

"Heron describes not one, but two different automatic door applications.  The first application used heat from a fire lit by the city's temple priest.  After, a few hours atmospheric pressure built up in a brass vessel causing it to pump water into adjacent holding containers.  These holding containers acted as weights, that through a series of ropes and pulleys would open the temple's doors, at just about the time people were to arrive for prayer.  Heron used a similar application to open the gates to the city."
Eastern Door Service News And Updates

"Heron of Alexandria, a Greek mathematician, geometer, and worker in mechanics was one of the greatest inventors in ancient times. His strange inventions, such as automaton theaters--puppet theaters worked by strings, drums, and weights--automatic doors, and coin-operated machines, were famous throughout the ancient world."
The History Channel

"One of Heron's treatises, called Pneumatica, describes almost one hundred machines and toys, including a fire engine, a wind organ, and a device for opening temple doors by a fire on the altar."

A translation of Pneumatica by HERO OF ALEXANDRIA  with diagrams

Chapter 37. Temple Doors opened by Fire on an Altar. http://www.history.rochester.edu/steam/hero/section37.html

Chapter 38. Other intermediate means of opening Temple Doors by Fire on an Altar. http://www.history.rochester.edu/steam/hero/section38.html


Electric-eye automatic doors

George W. Jenkins opened the first Publix market in Winter Haven, Florida, in 1930.

"In 1940, Jenkins (affectionately called 'Mr. George' by his employees) mortgaged an orange grove to build Florida's first supermarket. His "food palace" had, among other things, piped-in music, air conditioning, cold cases for frozen and refrigerated items, in-store donut and flower shops and electric-eye automatic doors. The supermarket was a smash hit, but World War II materials shortages prevented him from building more for a few years. In 1945 he purchased the 19-store All American food stores chain and converted them into Publix Super Markets.

"Pushing the door, pulling the door, and parking the rolling basket carrier in front of the door all had one thing in common. They frustrated shoppers-at least momentarily. A shopper approaching the exit door had no choice but to bring the shopping cart to a halt, open the door with one hand, and pull (or push) the shopping cart through with the other. That forced every shopper behind him or her to come to a momentary but complete halt. When the store was busy, this sequence of movement resulted in a long line of customers waiting for a chance to use the exit door. It provoked the same kind of emotion as motorists feel when they find themselves lined up at a toll booth with a defective toll barrier or theater goers when they line up for access to restrooms during an intermission."

George Jenkins

"For solving this problem, contemporary supermarkets and contemporary supermarket shoppers owe much to George Jenkins. On his way home to Florida from a New York journey in 1940, Jenkins made his way to Pennsylvania Station from the Statler hotel where he was staying. At Penn Station, he passed through a door that miraculously opened itself for him before he had a chance to push it open. This was such a novelty that he decided to walk through the door again. After inspecting it carefully, he concluded that learning about this door was far more important to his future than catching a train headed for Florida. After repeatedly passing through the door, Jenkins realized that a door like this one could remove the last barrier to the efficient flow of supermarket merchandise from its shelves to its customers' automobiles. If he could install one in his new supermarket, his customers wouldn't have to push a door open as they moved their accumulated purchases from the checkout stand to their automobiles."

(. . .)

"Thus, the first Publix supermarket came to be much more than a pretty building. Its most innovative and attractive elements were the automatic doors. The doors opened as you approached, and they closed as you passed. Virtually all supermarkets have them now, but the first Publix supermarket was also among the first supermarkets with automatic doors."
"They seemed incredible then. These magical devices dazzled the public and convinced consumers who lived far away to visit the store. They couldn't resist the magic doors. Some came to the store just to pass through them. They entered through the automatic doors, they exited from the automatic doors, they entered again, they exited again, and they (at least some of them) bought nothing."

SUPERMARKET USE AND EXCLUSIVE CLAUSES, PART TWO-THE INDUSTRY GAINS A FOOTHOLD, Real Property, Probate and Trust Journal,  Summer 2005  by Halper, Emanuel B

"Jenkins also made sure that his employees had the right environment to please the chain's customers. When he opened a state-of-the-art supermarket in 1940, it contained a host of newfangled amenities that shoppers take for granted today, including automatic doors, air conditioning, fluorescent lighting, frozen-food cases and piped-in music."

Supermarket News, Nov 25, 2002 p16


The Automatic Sliding Door

"Horton Automatics Inc. was formed in 1960, placing the first commercial automatic sliding door on the market and literally establishing a brand-new industry."

"The idea came to Lew Hewitt and Dee Horton to build an automatic sliding door back in the mid-1950's, when they saw that existing swing doors had difficulty operating  in Corpus Christi's winds. So the two men went to work inventing an automatic sliding door that would circumvent the problem of high winds and their damaging effect."
Horton Automatics

"The company co-founders Dee Horton and Lew Hewitt invented the sliding automatic door in 1954. Their automatic doors used a mat actuator."

Horton pioneered the first automatic sliding door in the United States.

"While some remember the '60s as the era of social revolution, civil rights and anti-war movements, Corpus Christi, Texas, looks back on its history and is reminded of two people's technological breakthrough. Friends Lew Hewitt and Dee Horton worked for Horton Glass Co., where they repaired conventional hand-opened, push-pull doors at the time, according to the company."

"These doors had a drawback: Corpus Christi's strong winds could slam them shut, shattering the glass. The two invented the first commercial automatic sliding doors, designed to withstand the windy conditions of Corpus Christi. In 1960, the development established a whole new company: Horton Automatics Inc."

Manufacturing Today: May 2006


The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers offers an interesting article about automatic doors in the movies titled "Electrical Technologies in the Movies: Automatic Doors"


"The history of automatic doors can be illustrated by movies. Consider the 1954 movie "Sabrina", starring Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn. Here, as often, automatic doors are a sign of affluence. The multiple garages of the Larrabee estate on Long Island have automatic doors, and Linus Larabee’s office in the city is entered through a remote-controlled sliding door. A few years later the French film-maker Jacques Tati made fun of the technology in "Mon oncle" (1958): there is a remote-controlled gate to a family’s yard; there are automatic doors on cabinets in the ultra-modern kitchen; and there is a garage door triggered by interrupting a beam of light across the driveway.

Automatic sliding doors appear frequently in movies.  "The Star Trek television series, which began in 1966, showed futuristic sliding doors that automatically receded into the wall as a person walked through."

Read the complete article at the link below.
IEEE History Center: Newsletter 54 November 2000

How long did it take for automatic doors to become a standard entrance used in commercial retail design?

The American Association of Automatic Door Manufacturers (AAADM) assited me with the second part of your question.

The American Association of Automatic Door Manufacturers (AAADM) is a trade association of manufacturers of automatic pedestrian door systems.

They responded to my  email inquiry with information from their Past President. 

They said supermarkets were the first segment of retailers to use automatic doors.  They were widely used starting in the 1950's using automatic swing doors.   The next group of retailers were discount centers like K Mart starting using automatic swing doors in the 1970's. Wal-Mart did not start wide use until the 1990's.

Automatic sliding door use in supermarkets started in late 1960's and gradually increased in the 1970's. In the 80's home centers started using automatic sliding doors.

The ADA law in the early 1990's expanded the retail users to what we see today with drug chains being one of the big users. Today the majority of retail specifies automatic sliding doors and some of the specialty retailers add a low energy swing door operator to their swing to meet ADA and ANSI A117.1 Accessibility requirements.

I hope the information provided is helpful!

Best regards,




 21 Sep 2007 20:58 UTCFri 21 Sep 2007 - 8:58 pm UTC 

Exactly what I was looking for. I especially appreciate that you took the time to email the American Association of Automatic Door Manufacturers. Well done! Thank you.


Bobbie Sevens 


 21 Sep 2007 21:13 UTCFri 21 Sep 2007 - 9:13 pm UTC 

Thank you for the tip! I'm glad you are pleased with my research.

Sorry about the typo .. it should be "assisted" and not "assited."




 23 Sep 2007 19:48 UTCSun 23 Sep 2007 - 7:48 pm UTC 

Wow, a demonstration of Bobbie's thorough researching skills that topped the list at Google Answers!

Now to go back and read about Heron.


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