Published On: Wed, Oct 28th, 2015

A Brief History of the Elevator

The elevator is a staple part of our lives nowadays. We use it constantly to go up and down floors and never really think about the mechanics of the device, unless maybe we have just watched a movie in which an elevator had a prominent feature. In reality, however, they are very interesting devices, as the best elevator companies in New York City will tell you. By definition, an elevator is an enclosure or platform that can go up and down within a vertical shaft. It is designed to move freight or people. Within the shaft, you will find the motor, operating equipment, cables and various other accessories.

A Brief History

Few people realize that primitive forms of elevators already existed around 300 BC. They were powered either by water wheel, animal or people. This specific type of device was used for nearly 2,000 years. In 1743, the first man-powered, counter-weighted, personal elevator was built. This was done specifically for King Louis XV of France, or Louis The Beloved, so that his Versailles apartment could be connected to that of Madame de Chateauroux, his mistress, who resided one floor above him.

Elisha Otis demo of his free-fall prevention mechanism, Crytsal Palace, 1854  public domain photo

Elisha Otis demo of his free-fall prevention mechanism, Crytsal Palace, 1854 public domain photo

Elevators in the 19th Century

After the first half of the 19th century, the crude design of man-powered elevators changed. Many became steam operated and they were used as a vital part of the industrial revolution, allowing for the transportation of heavy materials. They were found in warehouses, mines and factories. In 1823, Burton and Hormer, two architects, built what they called the ‘ascending room’. This was used in London to allow tourists to have an amazing panoramic view in London. 12 years later, in 1835, Frost and Stutt, also architects, built the device they called the ‘Teagle’, also in England, home of the industrial revolution. The Teagle was steam-driven, counter-weighted and belt-driven.

The Hydraulic Crane

Sir William Armstrong invented the hydraulic crane in 1846. By the 1870s, these cranes were starting to replace elevators that were still steam-powered. With a hydraulic elevator, the system is supported by a heavy piston that moves in a cylinder. The system is operated by oil or water pressure inside the pumps.

Elisha Otis

In 1853, Elisha Otis, an American inventor, delivered a demonstration of a freight elevator that used a safety device to prevent it from crashing down if a cable should break. This really made the general public more confident. Elisha started an elevator manufacturing company in 1853 and released a patent for the steam elevator in 1861.

Elisha Otis, as such, didn’t invent the elevator. He did, however, invent the brake used in elevators. It is thanks to his invention that we can now have skyscrapers. His company started to manufacture passenger elevators in 1857, with the first steam-powered model being installed in Manhattan in a five story store by E.W. Haughtwhat & Co.

Electric Elevators

Towards the end of the 19th century, electric elevators became more commonplace. The first was invented in 1880 by Werner von Siemens, a German. The electric elevator was patented on October 11, 1887 by Alexander Miles, a black inventor.

Guest Author: Lolita Di

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