The word “garage” first appeared in the French language in the year 1802, long before the debut of the automobile. Its root is in the 15th century French verb “garer”, meaning “to put something in a place where it will be protected."
This early usage of “garage” in French was mainly in relation to railroad cars and referred to the side track leading from a main line which shunted a string of cars to a resting place. A railroad station is still called “une gare” in France today.
By 1891 the word had reached its current French definition: “A covered place, usually enclosed, to shelter all types of vehicles except those drawn by horses.”
In the 1890's, automobiles, or "horseless carriages", began appearing in the United States. They were considered a fad, a toy for the upper classes.
In that era, farm families traveled by wagon or buggy drawn by one or more horses or perhaps a span of oxen. Ordinary families living in cities and small towns either used public transportation or walked, occasionally renting a horse and buggy from a livery stable.
Professionals such as doctors generally owned a horse and buggy, but only the wealthy "kept horses", which entailed not only the animals but a carriage house for the beasts, shelter for the horse-drawn vehicles, a hay loft and often living quarters for the servants involved with the horses.
Within ten years automobiles were being purchased for transportation. The first cross-country road trip was made in 1903 by a young doctor on a $50 bet. By this time the word "garage" had begun to creep into the American vocabulary.
It generally meant a commercial garage where automobiles could be purchased, serviced, and repaired. Urban areas offered large parking garages with rental space available by the month. Then Henry Ford marketed his mass-produced Model T in 1909, and within a few years automobiles were common enough that another solution was necessary for their storage.
By the time Ford’s Model A was released in 1928, “garage” had also come to mean a small independent structure built specifically to house a privately-owned automobile. Early in the 20th century it was possible to purchase “garage kits” from Sears, Roebuck & Co., prefabricated buildings of wood or metal panels.
The early automobiles produced many unfounded fears. Farmers were afraid that their milk cows would be so frightened by the noise of these vehicles that they would stop producing milk. Pollution from emission of a gasoline engine was not recognized as a danger. Many people, however, felt that the internal combustion engine could spontaneously catch on fire, wreaking havoc on its surroundings.
For this reason the garage was often located at a good distance from the main residence. Once this particular fear was overcome, and as building lots became smaller and smaller, the garage was erected closer and closer to the house. Additionally, as automobiles became larger, so did the garage. Eventually, garage and residence were merged into one unit.
In today’s suburban America, the “attached garage” is the norm for middle-income housing. Rural homes or upscale housing with a garage large enough for three or more vehicles will generally have a free-standing garage, but in the suburbs the one- or two-car attached garage is now standard on new construction.
In Europe, where residential land is at more of a premium than in the United States, it is not uncommon for a home to be built with the garage and perhaps a laundry and storage space on the ground floor and the living quarters above that. Or, in areas where the habitable surface of a residence must be kept in proportion to the total surface of the building lot, what was designed and built as an attached garage is later transformed into
additional living space. Homeowners with this intention usually build their houses with two attached garages.
Often in America a garage will be converted for other uses: an additional bedroom, perhaps, or a game room for the children. But this is only if the family cannot afford a larger house or has a strong reason for staying in the current neighborhood. Most people want their garage to be a garage.
Very, very few families use the garage solely for its original purpose: to shelter an automobile. Aside from its role as a storage area, either permanent or temporary, the garage has become a part of family life in a very curious way.
In the southern half of the United States, where the weather is relatively temperate most of the year, space for the clothes washer and dryer is automatically provided in the garage when the house is designed. After that, alternate usage of the garage is up to the owner.
Perhaps the fact that homes are no longer built with full basements and complete attics is responsible for the garage being used as a home workshop and as storage space. But it is not just a question of usage, it also touches on roles within the family.
As the kitchen is the domain of women, the garage is the stronghold of men. Men build workbenches in garages, decorate the walls with football pennants, Miller High Life signs, and NASCAR posters. Much of male social life revolves around the garage.
A large screen TV set is often installed in a garage. Keg parties are common during baseball season.
"Sitting in the garage" is a part of neighborhood society, together with garage etiquette reminiscent of the porch etiquette of the past. If you are greeted by a garage sitter as you walk past, you may stop and exchange a few words, but it is not considered polite to advance up the driveway unless invited.
Women do have their time in the garage apart from laundry duty. The last weekend of the month is garage sale time and this is where women take over. The garage sale is widespread only in the United States. In England, boot sales are held in parking lots, France is home to the flea market, and other affluent countries have estate sales.
Nowhere has the garage sale become such an exact science as in the United States. Google has some nine million references on this topic and every newspaper and pennysaver has an entire section devoted to garage sales.
Libraries have "how to" books on garage sales, hardware stores carry "garage sale" signs, and radio stations advertise them.
Entire neighborhoods and communities host annual garage sale weekends. One county in Alabama advertises the "World's Longest Yard Sale", stretching for 127 miles along a major highway.
And, finally, there is the entire world of garage rock. This is exactly what it sounds like: a group of musicians, generally teenagers, who started playing in someone's garage. It has grown its own vocabulary, its own style, and its own culture. Starting in the 1960's, revived in the 1980's, garage music can be found today as far afield as Canada and England.
When dannye Cooled this wu I mentioned to him that all the feedback on this topic, with one exception, came from male noders, further proof that the garage is a guy thing, he replied:
"I keep my garage immaculate and get really pissed if the women around here make a mess in it. What they do in the rest of the house is their business. So, yeah, I understand."