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Patent Number: 210,764 (Google Patents)
Issue Date: December 10, 1878
Inventor(s): Osbourn Dorsey
Residential door hardware in the United States during the mid-19th century was wildly different from what is in use today. Functioning door knobs and levers weren’t the “norm” of the day; if you were wealthy enough to own locks that used keys, you more than likely opened/closed it with decorative trim or the key itself. Furthermore, aside from a few door closing devices and hinges, people didn’t have much control over the movement of their door(s).
Enter Osbourn Dorsey.
Osbourn Dorsey’s patent would be categorized as a “door holder” today. His “door-holding device” allowed a door to be secured in an open position at any desired angle. Today we can accomplish a similar task with a door closer using a hold-open feature or an electromagnetic door holder or any number of devices (lead bricks were even a popular choice at one point!). Nevertheless, Dorsey’s invention was the first patented device used for the purposes of keeping a door open. Dorsey’s patent contained another first: functioning knob trim. The “door-holding device” utilized a knob to aid with securing the door into it’s desired position as well as release it.
Door holders would eventually become common door hardware items, still very much in use to this day. Knobs would become arguably the most popular style of door trim in the United States. Unfortunately, due to incomplete patent records, we’re unable to completely say what Dorsey’s impact was on either.
While Dorsey’s innovations were impressive for their time, there’s something equally impressive: Dorsey’s story. Dorsey was around the age of 16 when his patent was granted. Dorsey’s actual age and birthday are, apparently, lost to time. That’s because his age was approximated to be “about eight months” in May of 1863, just 4 months after President Abraham Lincoln issued Proclamation 95. This approximation was required to complete an official petition for freedom from slavery in Washington D.C. Osbourn Dorsey was an infant born to slave parents who made the journey to the “free states” for their freedom in accordance with Proclamation 95, or the Emancipation Proclamation. 16 years after he unknowingly gained his freedom, Dorsey patented, perhaps unknowingly, two of the biggest innovations in door hardware and he did it on a single patent.