Courtesy BTHL

This post is part of a monthly series that explores the historical applications of building materials and systems through resources from the Building Technology Heritage Library (BTHL), an online collection of AEC catalogs, brochures, trade publications, and more. The BTHL is a project of the Association for Preservation Technology, an international building preservation organization. Read more about the archive here.

Though small in stature, hinges, locks, handles, and knobs are some of the most critical components of an inhabited structure. And as with many building elements, the particular style or aesthetic of the day has an impact on their design.

Below, a collection of catalogs from the BTHL chronicles the evolution of hardware design and technology from the late 19th century through to the mid-20th century.

Catalogue of Building Hardware and Tools, Wm. M. McClure & Brother, Philadelphia, 1860
This Civil War–era catalog bills its door hardware as “the most perfect and durable article ever introduced.” The manufacturer sold door knobs in decorated porcelain, silver glass, silver plate, and bronzed glass finishes.

Maurice E. Viele Hardware, Albany, N.Y., 1876
This early and comprehensive catalog of builders’ hardware included hinges, bolts, drawer pulls and handles, and locks.

Illustrated Catalog of Builders’ Hardware : No. 3, Chas. A. Strelinger Co., Detroit, c. 1880
This extensive volume contains building and furniture hardware, including a “speaking tube,” an early iteration of the household intercom system.

Builder’s Hardware: Fine Locks, Artistic Designs, in Door and Window Trimmings, Simmons Hardware Co., St. Louis, 1903
With almost 500 pages of hardware options, this catalog offers hundreds of products in different finishes, configurations, and embellishments.

Forged Iron Hardware by McKinney, McKinney Manufacturing Co., Pittsburgh, 1920
McKinney Manufacturing designed its hardware options to replicate “hand forged” metalwork of previous generations. This catalog offers illustrations of installed door knockers, entrance handles, and door hinges.

Albany Hardware & Iron Co., Albany, N.Y., 1927
At 991 pages, this massive volume contains an assortment of hardware items, such as hardware, agricultural tools, electrical appliances, kitchen wares, and to sporting goods. As part of its builders' hardware offerings, the manufacturer sold locksets, doorknobs, hangers, padlocks, garage hardware, steel lockers, and showcases.

Norton Door Closers, Norton Door Closer Co., Chicago, 1938
The Norton Door Closer Co. traces its origins to 1880, when its founder Lewis C. Norton was issued a patent on a pneumatic door closer. The company has continued to be an active leader in hydraulic door manufacturing.

Modern Cabinet Hardware, National Lock Co., Rockford, Ill., c. 1950
The National Lock Co. offered modern kitchen cabinet hardware with chrome finishes for “lasting beauty.”