Analytical and experimental studies into the behavior of a new hysteretic damper, designed for seismic protection of structures is presented in two papers. Although the subject matter of the papers is a specific system, they are also intended as an illustration of practical application of diverse engineering tools in systematic development of an anti-seismic product. The Multi-directional Torsional Hysteretic Damper (MTHD) is a recently patented invention in which a symmetrical arrangement of identical cylindrical steel energy dissipaters is configured to yield in torsion while the structure experiences planar movements due to earthquake shakings. The device has gone through many stages of design refinement, prototype verification tests and development of design guidelines and computer codes to facilitate its implementation in practice. The first of this two-part paper summarizes the development stages of the new system, conceptual and analytical. The experimental phase of the research is the focus of the accompanying paper. The new device has certain desirable properties. Notably, it is characterized by a variable and controllable-via-design or adaptive post-elastic stiffness. This feature gives the isolated structure the capability to evade the dominant period of the ground motion leading to reduced displacements while having force levels comparable to regular bilinear isolation systems. The device has already been applied to four major bridges. Copyright (C) 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.