A mechanism to automatically restrict access to premises seems to be innovative, but history tells us that turnstiles were created more than a century ago. According to official data, the first representation of modern day electronic turnstiles were installed in the Piggly Wiggly retail network in the USA in 1916. But if you go deeper into history, it turns out that the very first incarnation of a turnstile device was used by enterprising farmers in the United Kingdom in the 18-19th century.
When did turnstiles first appear?
When faced with the question – when were turnstiles first invented? There are a variety of legitimate answers, and some quite unexpected ones too. As always, the official version differs from common belief, but what is clear is that the invention is not as new as it may seem to us today.
Rotating turnstiles installed at Piggly Wiggly in 1916
The installation of the first rotator is generally associated with the appearance of the first self-service store. Clarence Saunders was the founder of the Piggly Wiggly chain and is considered to be the creator of the concept of the modern day supermarket. The idea was to reduce the overhead of the store as much as possible, by which the buyer was free to personally collect products from the shelves and weigh out produce themselves. The number of sales assistants was reduced, and the customers purchases from the store were controlled by cashiers and security guards. Therein to control security in the premises, rotating turnstiles were installed, restricting the customers exit until payment was made. In 1916 this solution was considered ground-breaking and was the birth of the turnstiles that we still use today.
It’s incredible to us now, but farmers in the 18th century, who were concerned about the safety and security of their herds came up with a design which made history and became the precursor of the modern-day turnstile. In 1750, the British approved the “right of way act”, which made it legal for commoners to move freely through private pastures. It is thought that this became an incentive for farmers to abandon their usual stiles and come up with turnstiles. To facilitate safe cattle grazing, pastures were set up in an enclosed field, which was secured along it’s perimeter by a fence, and at the entrance there was a gate and a turnstile through which a single person could gain access but not a hooved mammal or predator. The benefits being that once the gate was secured:
• The herd could not disperse.
• The livestock were safe from predators.
• The herdsman could control his livestock within a static enclosure.
• Access to the pasture and freedom of movement was protected.
This all being achieved by the introduction of the turnstile. This means that these innovative 18th century farmers set the precedent a full century before Clarence Saunders. This proves once again that necessity is the mother of invention and drives us to create innovative solutions even with minimal technical awareness.
Perey Turnstiles Inc are considered to be the USA’s pioneers of turnstile design and manufacture.
John Perry and Conrad Trubenbach are acknowledged to be the first to come up with the concept of the modern day rotating bar turnstile. The founders of Perey registered their inventions (the Roto-Gate & Passimeter) in 1928, and to this day they remain the market leaders in turnstile manufacturing in the United States.
The modern-day turnstile, with all of it’s technical innovations, serve not only to safely control the flow of people but also have many additional functions. Tripods, gates, rotary gates and speed-lanes – all of which to one degree or another are used for:
• Control of access.
• Identification of users.
• Monitoring of personnel.
Today’s modern turnstiles and speed-lanes can be operated in manual or automatic modes. They can interact with external security systems by sending and receiving control/data signals and are indispensable in controlling traffic flow through secure and congested areas.