Still, the archetype of the "garage inventor"—and indeed the phrase itself—did not catch on until the 1960s and '70s. "The attached garage is really a postwar thing," says Eric Hintz, a historian at the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the Smithsonian. He says that the structure gave moonlighting engineers in the developing suburbs a large, configurable space, where they might set up their tables and sawhorses.
Garage-style inventors predate the existence of garages, however. Before the 1920s, a part-time inventor might have dreamed up ideas inside the carriage house, which housed a family's horse and buggy. In 1885, for example, Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, set up a lab inside the carriage house behind his father's home in Washington, D.C.