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A brief history of railing design. Step railing shown in a park filled with trees.

A Brief History of Railing Design

  •   Posted on December 17, 2020

Taking a look at how railing designs have changed over time.

We are joined by a guest blogger Javie Birdine, who will be discussing the History of Railing Design!

Railings weren’t always the sleek, functional systems that we know today. In fact, railings went through a lot of design changes and weak builds before they got to this point. Today, we’ll be taking a look at some of the milestones in railing design.

Wrought Irons

The earliest records of railings in history were those created with wrought iron in the 15th century using a blast furnace. People used the “puddling process” to make them, which involved melting iron in a hollowed hearth and then agitating it with a bar. You will usually see wrought iron railings in churches and burial grounds since they were mostly used for worship-related exterior builds.

Close up of old wrought iron railing that has spear pickets.

Wrought iron was one of the first metal materials used for railing

Cast Irons

Wrought iron railing slowly died in the 18th century, taken over by cast iron railings. “Cast” iron is iron that has been melted, molded, and cooled. Thanks to the industrial revolution, people finally had machines to streamline the melting and molding of minerals. Iron railings became commonplace because of how cheap it was to produce them. As such, it wasn’t too unusual to see railings even on communal stone boundaries and around middle-class houses. In fact, most of the gothic architecture designs during the Victorian era were created with cast iron.

cast iron railing on a stairway with leaf designs.

Cast irons allowed for more accessibility to railing products


Although very common in the 18th and 19th centuries, iron was heavy and the resources became scarce. The industry then looked into replacing iron as a standard in the early 20th century. As a result people found aluminum—which was light, versatile, and long-lasting. Plus it came in abundance.

But it was only during the height of the Great Depression that aluminum saw the four walls of a manufacturing plant. This was when the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was deep into hydroelectric projects which was later used to generate the electrical capacity needed for mass aluminum production. Since then, aluminum has become the industry’s favorite material. Aluminum is used in engines, cans, electronics, and of course railings. The use of aluminum in railings first emerged in the 1940s, an entire decade after former President Franklin Roosevelt signed the National Industrial Recovery Act—which forced industries to comply with rules of fair competition.

Modern Aluminum Designs

aluminum pipe cable railing separates customers from the brewing process

Modern designs allow for customization and creativity

In the past, aluminum railing designs were drafted by hand before they were given to factories to be mass-produced. But today more complex designs are made possible with computer programs and the power of integrated technology in manufacturing plants, allowing products such as cable railing, horizontal railing, and privacy railing to be made. These designs, however, must still must meet certain guideline, regulations, and manufacturing capabilities. Once the manufacturer has all the measurements the components are created in a 3D footprint library to increase the number of design spins. This way the railings’ design points are easier to visualize and modify according to the clients’ needs. Realistic renderings and structural analyses are performed to emulate the feasibility of the design, for example. Designs can also be shared through the internet and edited in real-time for complete transparency.

Aluminum railing manufactured into pickets

Classic designs can still be made in modern fashion

This type of railing design process has given people the opportunity to create the look they desire. Railing design went through a lot of changes, mostly due to the materials available at the time. But through the combination of aluminum and new design advancements, the possibilities are endless. As long that it’s both physically possible and within a manufacturer’s scope of work, people can get nearly any railing design they want.

If you’re interested to learn about more architectural origins, check out our post on column history.

Post solely for the use of

By Javie Birdine


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