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Photo by Kristine Larsen

A far cry from the prison-like bars sold today, 19th-century window guards actually enhanced the look of a home, making its inhabitants feel secure, not confined.

Used on windows in urban areas from Charleston to Chicago, they kept intruders out while letting air and light in. The strong wrought-iron bars were often embellished with decorative cast flowers, tassels, or medallions.

By the 1880s, dozens of companies competed to satisfy Victorian-era America's appetite for window guards and other ornamental ironwork. They hired skilled patternmakers, who followed all the latest European trends. Because of those guards' enduring style and sturdy construction, many still beautify streetscapes today.