My research on the history of carabiners has now been published here:


Massive thanks for the research assistance!

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In case you had not found it before; this is the origin of the Rambo myth:


It includes the details about the fire brigade, and the likely design of the carabiner (gourd shaped, which they called "pear", since that is what it was called in German - this is different from what we call pear-shaped in English). It starts the idea that he used actual fire brigade carabiners, suggesting which company might have produced them.

It shows that Dülfer was using them even earlier; 1910, while the 1939 article stated that Rambo was using them experimentally in 1912, not 1910. However, it is easy to see from the way that 1968 article is written, why people might have jumped to that conclusion. The article says that Rambo was experimenting (with carabiners, presumably) on Fleischbank before Dülfer used them to climb it. But that was in 1912, not 1910. Dülfer used them for belaying in 1910. Rambo experimented with them on Fleischbank in 1912. Dülfer used them to climb Fleischbank in 1912.

Very interesting article, that clearly shows that it is all third hand information, promoted by a family member (rather unsurprisingly).

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Fire brigades had numerous designs, some having the old visible leaf spring, some having a captive eye, and some being gourd shaped.

1872, fire brigades were using carabiners (they called it a "loop") as a descender, using a carabiner wrap, with the rope pulled three times through it - very clear instructions:


By 1877, the design with a torsion spring is mentioned as an "older design", and I think that is because the gourd design appeared in 1872:


(I have no reference for the 1872 thing, I just extrapolated from which sellers were selling it later, and when they started selling - specifically https://anno.onb.ac.at/cgi-content/anno-plus?aid=dfw&datum=1872&pos=47 )

In 1877, they seemed to be selling gourd shaped carabiners only:

https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/Feuerwehr_Taschenbuch/dXyrN_BVA7cC (page near the end with pictures)

The carabiner wrap descender comes from 1878:


The illustration uses an older design of carabiner. The same book shows the old leaf spring design, and a smaller captive eye design used to link ropes. It also shows a dedicated belay frame that can be placed inside a window, which has several carabiners to use for belaying a rope, or to belay people using a carabiner wrap. Very interesting book!

1885, the small captive eye design used to link ropes or connect them to belays:



1894, they used carabiners on the ends of ropes to allow them to be quickly joined to make a longer rope.

Mining is a little different. I still think they originally got their designs from the fire brigades, but manufacturers quickly adapted to the needs of each industry separately. The gourd shaped carabiners were either called "pear shaped" or "fire brigade" in German, which is why so many references claim to be using fire brigade carabiners - they are referring to the shape, not the intended users.

The first mention I have found of a spring hook was in 1933, in Hetton Colliery in England (described in German):


I have searched through this set, which is based in Britain:


They have loads of "spring hook" and "safety hook" designs, but they are

all actual hooks, not carabiners as you or I would think of them. Eg.

page 817:


This shows the gourd and captive eye designs shown on this page, dating from 1908 in Germany, in the Sächsischen Schweiz region:


This shows a transition between gourd shaped and the 1922 narrow pear shape, from 1902 in Austria:


I have not found anything showing the triangular carabiner design shown on this page as 1914. Personally, I think the dating of the carabiners in that image is wrong, since it shows the 1922 design as 1914 too. The gourd shaped carabiner is likely to be the only one from 1914. The others are from 1920-1922. But I cannot back that up with actual proof, it's just that that is when those designs first seem to have been used.

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Climbers were purchasing ropes with carabiners in 1882. German Austrian Alpine Club newsletter.

It doesn't say what type of rope or carabiner this was, but that is exactly the sort of thing (rope with carabiner) that was advertised to the fire brigades. It is mentioned again in 1887:


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1879, intentionally having a belt made like a fire brigade belt, with ring and carabiner, so quickly connect and disconnect from a rope.

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While I have not been able to find the actual date of the fireman's carabiner wrap image (descending, belaying or lowering someone using a carabiner), I have been able to find out a lot more of the surrounding information. This image shows the same carabiner, in 1880:


The carabiner looks like it has a torsion spring on the hinge, an approach that was invented in 1864 in America:


It is likely to be 19 cm (7.5 inches) long, which is pretty huge for a carabiner:


The carabiners originated in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (I did not find anything similar from America, where the documentation is a bit easier to find). The gourd shaped carabiners were sold by Franz Kernreuter from Vienna, Austria, first advertised for sale in 1872. Walser from Pest (now Budapest, Hungary) also made "good" carabiners. They are described on page 48 (in German) and depicted on page 262 (unnumbered):


The carabiners could hold 100 kg without bending, and were the recommended model in 1877. They are described as having an internal spring (they are one of the first carabiners to feature a spring hidden inside the gate), and a barb (dovetail latch) to keep them closed, and prevent them opening in the wrong direction. As well as being used on the belt, they are also used with a 9 mm hemp rope, for hauling up a hose, for lowering furniture or people, or for self rescue.

These very strong (for that era) carabiners were first advertised for sale in 1972:


The original purpose of the big carabiners was to pass a fireman's hose through it, so it would not be dropped, and also to have a tether from the fireman's belt to a carabiner which could be clipped to the fireman's ladder's rungs, so that both hands could be free to hold a hose. Page 16.5:


This is described on page 11 as a relatively new thing, saying that americans use a slightly different approach that does not allow self rescue (so the Austrians are using carabiners for self rescue).

So self rescue (of a firefighter) involves a rope with a carabiner (to clip up above a window or to something solid inside a room?), and a carabiner on their belt. And we already have that picture from some time after 1877, when they switched to that other type of carabiner, showing how to use it with a carabiner wrap. I have not found the method described any earlier than 1877, but in 1877 it was described as normal, while in 1869, French manuals (which go back much further than the Austrian ones) did not describe it at all.

In 1876, a spiral descender was developed for fire brigades (and subsequently sold into the 1990s!) in France. This was discussed in 1877 in Austria (they are definitely talking to each other and sharing ideas, so the French would have known about carabiner wraps if they existed):


They say that while it is a new design, they already have a "pulley" descender (they mean a horizontal spool) and it is similar to lowering someone with a carabiner and rope. The spool descender is depicted in France in 1869:


The spool is clipped above a window using a carabiner. A person gets into a bag (instead of a harness!) on the end of a rope, loops it a few times around the spool, and holds the other end of the rope, slowly paying it out so they descend. The spool stays where it is at the top. A carabiner could be used the same way, but the later picture shows they are using the carabiner wrap. That's pretty conclusive evidence.

So my conclusions:

They (France and Austria) learned how to use a spool to lower people in 1869-ish. They (Austria) learn how to use a good carabiner as a descender for self rescue, or instead of the spool for lowering, or as a belay device for lowering someone some time during the early 1870s. They get the spiral descender from France in 1877, but still prefer the carabiner wrap. The carabiners come from Austria. with the gourd ones originating in 1872. The Americans and Austrians are sharing ideas. Austrians used a tether to clip to a ladder. Americans use one to clip to the hose. Austrians can use their tether carabiner as a descender.

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"These very strong (for that era) carabiners were first advertised for sale in 1972"

I meant 1872. Shame I can't edit comments here.

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Fantastic additional research of early mechanical systems used for other pursuits. Thanks for adding here for other researchers. I find the Austrian Library digital search excellent for journals of all types dating waaaay back: https://anno.onb.ac.at/anno-suche#searchMode=complex&dateMode=period&from=1

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Hi Tarquin

Thanks for keeping me posted, and adding to my page. It’s more possible to dig deeper now than ever before with all the old journals online. Nice work.

Let me know if you find out more about the mining carabiners—I feel pretty sure they were the first strong carabiners adopted for climbing, well before 1910.


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I suspect the carabiners used by the mining industry were the same ones used by the fire brigades. The fire brigades switched to a torsion spring because it cost less - it costs money to drill a hole inside a carabiner gate and insert a spring, while an external torsion spring is much easier and less costly.

The difficulty with searching for "Carabiner" (Austrian spelling) or Karabiner (modern German spelling) and "Bergbau" (mining) is that the word "carabiner" literally means "carbine rifle". And mining is sometimes used by the military to mean "digging a trench". So in the 1800s, you get loads of information about entrenching and using rifles. Or newspapers talking about both things in separate articles.

The fire brigades called it "carabiner" because people got it wrong when hearing carabinerhaken - carbine-rifle hook. They meant "haken" but used the wrong half of the word. The mining industry correctly called it "haken", meaning "hook". So searching for "mining hook" ... well, you can see where this will all go wrong. "15,410 results".

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Ah of course!

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Aug 9, 2022Liked by John Middendorf

Wow, Deucey, you're uncovering a wealth of information! What the hell is a Pompier ladder?

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Pompier is the French term for firefighter, I believe. A ladder for getting up burning buildings! Probably adopted from castle sieging gear.

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