The Amazing History of the Elevator

The Amazing History of the Elevator


 

When you think of elevators, you probably don’t think about them as life-changing or culture-influencing objects. Yet they are. Few things have had such an effect on the landscape of America like the commercial elevator.

Elevators in the Ancient World

ICertainly humankind was a long way from the invention of residential lifts in the pre-industrial era. But people have always been dreamers, and the Greek inventor Archimedes had an idea for an elevator as early as 200 BC. In the Middle Ages, ropes and pulleys were used to pull freight and passengers up in cabs. These were powered by rope and were used primarily in construction settings. But it was the invention of the screw drive mechanism in 1793 that propelled us into the era of the commercial elevator.

Early Elevators

The first elevators that we would recognize as such came into use during the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution was being powered by coal. and there had to be an efficient way of getting all that coal, and the miners who dug for it, in and out of increasingly larger mines. Once mechanical elevators were installed, production sped up dramatically.

Outside of the coal mines and a few lumber yards, however, the elevator wasn’t really in any sort of practical use. You would not have found an elevator company as such and elevators were largely used for recreation. Holidaymakers could be hoisted to the sky with them to get a better view of London and other important cities of the day.

New Innovations

The next major innovation in the history of the commercial elevator was the application of steam power. Steam driven elevators allowed greater loads to be hoisted more easily and evenly. Then an American, Elisha Graves Otis, whose name is still associated with elevators across the United States, invented the first elevator brake mechanism. Prior to his development, elevators had been widely considered unsafe and certainly, no one was thinking to install residential lifts. There had been a number of horrific accidents when ropes or drive mechanisms failed. Otis’s original design is still used in some commercial elevator installation even to this day.

Electrics

Electricity would be the next great advance in the history of the elevator. In 1880, a German inventor developed the first true electric elevator. It wasn’t long before safety features such as floor control were added to the electrics. Even better, electric elevators were much faster than steam or hydraulic elevators had been, and the new design allowed multiple elevators to be fit into the same elevator shaft.

Final Steps

The final steps to getting the commercial elevator or residential lift into the shape in which we currently recognize it was the invention of the automatic door. The automatic door, believe it or not, started being used in elevators as early as 1887. This is surprising considering how long it took the rest of the commercial world to get around to using automatic door technology in other parts of the building.

Further inventions included the emergency stop button, voice controls, and the emergency telephones that all modern commercial elevators and residential lifts are equipped with.

Changing the World

These amazing developments in elevator technology have literally changed the world. Without elevators, there would be no skyscrapers. The whole landscape of major cities such as London, New York, Chicago, and Hong Kong would be entirely different, and it is questionable whether these cities would have even been able to attain the commercial success that they enjoy.

Elevators also allowed for the invention of apartment buildings, without which our cities and even towns would look quite different. It would not be a stretch to say that without the elevator, far more of us might be working as farmers. Perhaps most importantly, the elevator has transformed accessibility for the disabled and those with mobility impairments, allowing them to access the top floor of the mall, a high-rise apartment, a working office 30-stories high, or the top floor of a major hospital with the same ease as those without mobility challenges.

There’s no telling what the future will hold when it comes to elevator design. the only thing that is certain is that we’re unlikely to stop pushing the envelope of development and design.