The Rise of Elevators

The Rise of Elevators

When I thought of that title I knew I had to write this article. In the early 19th century buildings were limited to six floors since the amount of effort to ascend them every day was deemed too high. While some lifts existed, most of them were inside factories for lifting heavy equipment to higher levels and their rate of failure was incredibly high. In 1852 a man named Elisha Otis was working in one of these factories which used lathes to make bedposts. He and his sons invented an automatic brake which would engage in case the main cable snapped, but they made no effort to advertise their breakthrough.

As their bedpost business fell apart they realised that their safety lifts were outselling their main product and in 1854 they converted the factory to make elevators instead. They took part in a publicity stunt at the New York World's Fair at the Crystal Palace where Otis stood on his elevator platform and had an axeman cut the rope. The crowds were expecting a disaster, since in the previous decade a similar stunt had been tried twice before; each time using members of the public and both times ending less than desirably. However, after only a few inches of freefall the brakes cut in and the elevator platform stopped.

 Elisha Otis on his Safety Elevator

Elisha Otis on his Safety Elevator

Sales dramatically increased and in 1857 the first safety elevator for the public was installed in the E. V. Haughwout and Company Department Store at Broadway and Broome Street in New York. There was a change of perception which Otis' publicity team intentionally created which drove up sales. Before the elevator, the best rooms in a hotel or apartment building were on the ground floor since you didn't have to ascend stairs. However this idea was rebranded as the penthouse should be the place with the best views and, more crucially, should be furthest from the stench on the road (which in the horse drawn, throw you rubbish in the streets days of the 1850s was more of an issue than today). Suddenly the top of the tower was the best place to be and the buildings were free to extend past six stories. New York in particular took this to heart:

 Manhatten's Rising Skyline

Manhatten's Rising Skyline

The first elevator shafts actually predates the first elevator by four years. Peter Cooper (as far as I'm aware no relation of the HSFC VP) of the Cooper Foundation was so confident that the safety elevator was imminent that he constructed one in his building in 1853. However he designed the shaft to be cylindrical because he was sure that that was the most efficient design. Four years later Elisha Otis designed him a cylindrical elevator specially.

Since then the Otis Elevator Company became the biggest lift manufacturer in the world.

 Elisha Otis

Elisha Otis

Spinning Spaceships

Spinning Spaceships

Twin Primes

Twin Primes