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I entirely understand what door prize means, but how did this name come about? Is this some kind of slang?

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"... and the door prize is... a door...!" (sorry, can't help to joke ^_^ ) –  annawie Apr 19 '12 at 17:31

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

It's the prize for a contest where the entering is accomplished by walking through the door. In most of these situations, you'd pay a small amount of money to come into a dance or convention, and you'd be given a ticket. At some point the organizers would pull a matching ticket out of a tumbler, and call it out. If no one answered for it, they'd pick a new one. The practice is mentioned as early as 1878.

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> "early 1950's." reference? –  trideceth12 May 15 '11 at 9:17
    
OED has a cite for it dating to 1884: wordorigins.org/index.php/forums/viewthread/375 –  The Raven May 15 '11 at 10:07
    
i.e. a prize jus for showing up. Which is the ostensible meaning, but frankly it is a bit opaque ("What is this 'door' thing all about?") but that is irrelevant, you just fixate on the bright, shiny thing and go for that reason. ("There's some kind of prize. Woohoo! Let's go!"). –  Mitch May 15 '11 at 14:55
    
Mine was from dictionary.com. I'm interested in the OED one, though, I'll have to have a look for that sometime. –  Hack Saw May 16 '11 at 16:09
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From The Carpet Trade, vol. 9 number 11, November 1878: "There was a prize for each table. A special feature was the door prize which was won by Joe Zimmerman of C. & J. Zimmerman." If you run an NGrams search, you get a hit (Ohio Horticultural Society) that claims to be from 1867, but that's just Google Books' sloppiness; it's actually from 1931, and the phrase was already common by then. –  MT_Head Jul 14 '11 at 9:08

A "door prize" is a prize given for an event that one gets just by "walking through the door" leading to it. It is a small "loss leader" to get you where the organizers hope to sell you something much more expensive.

As for the early 1950s reference, this practice BECAME POPULAR (in America) in the 1950s, during the growth of the American consumer society. My understanding is that it has a much earlier origin.

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