Exit Devices: Von Duprin Changes the Face of Commercial Security

Published: 05th November 2008
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Exit devices are crucial pieces of hardware on commercial doors. Exit devices, also known as panic bars or crash bars, are mechanisms used for opening doors quickly. Crash bars supplement or replace standard door knobs or handles/levers. They make a hands-free exit from inside possible while allowing the door to remain locked from the outside. They allow for quick escape in emergencies (hence the name panic bars.) When the first Von Duprin exit device debuted in the early 1900's, no one could have predicted the far-reaching impact it would have on industry for centuries to come.

Exit devices/crash bars are required on certain doors in commercial buildings. The building codes in most municipalities/states mandate which doors must have crash bars installed. They save precious seconds during an emergency, such as a fire, allowing crowds to escape quickly to safety.

While they mainly function as a safety device, crash bars have other advantages. They are often easier for people in wheelchairs to reach and execute than handles. Children can also operate them easily.

The first crash bar was invented by Carl Prinzler in the early 1900's. Prinzler developed his idea in response to a tragic theater fire in Chicago in 1903. During this period it was normal for theaters and other public buildings to remain locked (from outside and inside) while patrons were inside. In the case of theaters, it prevented people from sneaking inside without paying.

Unfortunately it also kept paying customers from being able to exit without the help of an usher with a key. When fire broke out in Chicago's Iroquois Theater, nearly 600 people perished when they were unable to escape the locked building. Prinzler had been scheduled to attend the Iroquois that night but was called to another engagement instead.

Prinzler was deeply affected by the events surrounding the theater fire and extensive loss of life that occurred, and knowing that he narrowly escaped his own death. He developed the panic bar so that buildings like theaters could secure their doors without endangering people inside.

The first exit devices went into production thanks to a joint effort between Prinzler and engineer Henry DuPont. Their collaboration, the panic bar, was marketed by the Vonnegut Hardware Company. It was sold under the name "Von Duprin," which was an amalgamation of the names of the three collaborating entities: Vonnegut, DuPont and Prinzler.

The Von Duprin brand quickly became a leader in the security industry following the release of its new design. The original "88 Series" crash bar underwent a number of design upgrades after its initial release. Technological advances have made significant improvements to its ability to function and wear.

The privately held Von Duprin Company still manufactures its 88 Series panic bar. It has also expanded its product line over the decades. The company manufactures dozens of types of exit devices and other door hardware.

Prinzler's ingenious invention may have saved thousands of lives. Fortunately crash bars are standard mechanisms on commercial doors today. Von Duprin exit devices provide both security for business owners and peace of mind for staff and patrons in commercial buildings. The invention of the panic bar was a significant step forward for the security industry and for regard for human life and safety in the eyes of the public.

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