POP QUIZ:

Were screen doors and window screens invented BEFORE 1870, or AFTER?

We’ve all read western historical romances where the heroine sets her pie on the windowsill to cool (apparently in the kitchen), but that wouldn’t work (especially the pie thieving aspect) if a screen were in the window. We’ve also all read a western historical romance where the screen door bangs shut as an exclamation point to the heroine’s argument, trying to get the hero to see things her way.

So, before 1870, or after?

Screen Door. Stricker Mansion, Stricker Ranch, Twin Falls County, Idaho.

Screen Door of Stricker Mansion, Stricker Ranch, Twin Falls County, Idaho. Image: Taken by Kristin Holt, June 2016.

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Before wire cloth or mesh was used for window screens and door screens, people sometimes used cheesecloth to cover their windows to keep out flies and other insects. Cheesecloth is loosely woven and so will allow air to circulate, but it is delicate and easily torn. Wire cloth was woven of fine metal wire, originally for sieves to sift flour and strain food.

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During the U.S. Civil War (1861 – 1865), Gilbert and Bennett, a company of sieve makers in Connecticut, had a growing surplus because they could no longer sell in the Southern states. An employee of the company had a new idea: he coated the wire cloth with paint to prevent rust and sold it for window screens. The idea was so popular that the company made wire cloth a major part of its business, and it became a major manufacturer of screens for doors and windows. Later, the company introduced steel wire, which was resistant to rust.

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~ University of Virginia, Health Collections

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AND…

“Wove wire for window screens” were referenced in the American Farmer in 1823. Advertisement for wire window screens appeared in Boyd’s Blue Book in 1836. Two wire window screens were exhibited at Quincy Hall in Boston in 1839. In 1861 Gilberr, Bennett and Company was manufacturing wire mesh sieves for food processing. An employee realized that the wire cloth could be painted gray and sold as window screens and the product became an immediate success. On July 7, 1868, Bayley and McCluskey filed a U.S. Patent, number 79541 for screened roof-top rail-car windows, allowing ventilation, while preventing “sparks, cinders, dust, etc.” from entering the passenger compartment. By 1874, E.T. Barnum Company of Detroit, Michigan advertised screens that were sold by the square foot. Apparently, window screens designed specifically to prevent insect entry were not patented in the United States, although by 1900 several patents were awarded for particular innovations related to window screen design. By the 1950s, parasitic diseases were largely eradicated in the United States in part due to the widespread use of window screens. [Italics and bold-face added.] [source]

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ANSWER:

Undeniably BEFORE 1870.

Does that surprise you? It surprised me!

SCREEN DOORS

Screen Doors part 1. Sears 1897

Screen Doors, part 1. Sears Roebuck & Co., 1897

Screen Doors part 2. Sears 1897

Screen Doors. part 2. Sears Roebuck & Co., 1897

Screen Doors Montgomery Ward Spring & Summer Catalog 1895

Screen Doors, Montgomery Ward Spring & Summer Catalog 1895

Screen Doors continued. Montgomery Ward Spring and Summer 1895

Screen Doors continued. Montgomery Ward Spring and Summer 1895

Screen Door Catches. Montgomery Ward Spring & Summer Catalog 1895

Screen Door Catches. Montgomery Ward Spring & Summer Catalog 1895

Screen Door Private Residence in Silver City Idaho. June 2016

Screen Door Private Residence in Silver City Idaho. Image: Taken by Kristin Holt, June 2016.

WINDOW SCREENS: Frames and Mesh Wire Fabric

windoow SCREEN frames. sears 1897

Window screen frames in the Sears Roebuck & Co. Catalogue, 1897

Window SCREENS. Sears 1897

Window screens, Sears Roebuck & Co., 1897

Wire Cloth for Screens. Montgomery Ward Spring & Summer Catalog 1895

Wire Cloth for Screens. Montgomery Ward Spring & Summer Catalog 1895

Window Screen Adjustible. Montgomery Ward Spring & Summer 1895

Window Screen, Adjustable. Montgomery Ward Spring & Summer 1895

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