The orb web is a spectacular evolutionary innovation that enables spiders to catch flying prey. This elegant, geometric structure is woven with silk fibers that are renowned for their superior mechanical properties. We used silk gland expression libraries to address a long-standing controversy concerning the evolution of the orb-web architecture. Contrary to the view that the orb-web design evolved multiple times, we found that the distribution and phylogeny of silk proteins support a single, ancient origin of the orb web at least 136 million years ago. Furthermore, we substantially expanded the repository of silk sequences that can be used for the synthesis of high-performance biomaterials.