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Invention Story of Elevator

Written By: 

Samidha Verma
Ever wondered what gave way to soaring imagination of architects? Would the modern day city’s skyline be the same if we did not have skyscrapers and high rise buildings? One of the inventions that have played an important role in modern day architecture is elevators. Imagine yourself climbing stairs to your apartment on 19th floor each time you want to go out. Yes, sounds like a good workout routine. Think again…and you would have a new found respect for elevators and its inventors.
The need for elevators did not arise just yet to support modern architecture; it has been as old as our civilization. We have always looked for ways to lift things. Back in 3rd century, hoists operated by water wheels, humans and animals were used for the lifting purposes. This basic way of lifting continued till the dawn of the industrial revolution. Animal or man power was the main force behind hoisting until one day Archimedes endowed us with an improved lifting device. The device was operated with support of pulleys and ropes coiled around winding drum using levers. By AD 80, wild animals as well as gladiators could ride this primitive elevator.
Further ahead, the first ever elevator was designed to lift a passenger in 1743. This was made exclusively for King Louis in France. Though this looked nothing like elevators of today, it was called a flying chair. Carefully placed outside King’s balcony, the flying chair was used by the king to travel from one floor to another. It was operated manually on King’s command.
Image Of First Ever Elevator

Fig. 1: Image Of First Ever Elevator

Soon in 1850, much more a sophisticated elevator was introduced – hydraulic and steam elevator.  And with this, a name that has been associated with quality elevators till date, Otis, came into being. In a span of two years, Elisha G Otis introduced first ever safety elevator. He solved the challenge of rope failure faced by earlier elevators and hence his elevator was known as safety elevator. Otis’s elevators had safety brake installed in each one of them. In case of a rope failure, spring pushed ratchet to bring forward sawtooth iron bar, securing the elevator. Otis demonstrated this himself in one of the presentations in New York by breaking free the rope and the safety brake that he had installed worked wonderfully.
Simultaneously, Frost and Stutt introduced a traction method, counterbalance kind elevator known as Teagle. Teagle and safety brakes by Otis became basic safety features of the elevators and made way for safety elevator devices.
This passenger elevator was first installed in New York City’s hotel Broadway in 1857. It was powered by steam, could carry around 450 Kgs. of weight and travelled at a speed of 12 meters/minute. Installation of this elevator gave boost to the hotel business because now rooms on the upper floors were no more undesirable. The hotel could now charge premium rates for the penthouses as they gave superior view and the customers were not required to climb so many stairs.
 Four years later when Otis died in 1861, his sons took forward the legacy by forming Otis Brothers co. Since then there has been no stopping them – in 1873, around 2000 elevators were set up in hotels, offices and apartments. Five years later hydraulic elevators were introduced and just as era of skyscrapers arrived, Otis Brothers Co. introduced electric elevators.
Soon the company started growing by leaps and bounds, and the brothers decided to join hands with 14 other elevators companies to form a giant in elevators called Otis Company. With this merger, the company became even the more powerful and came up with a design that was considered to be the backbone of the industry. Gearless traction elevators has made Otis a part of world’s leading aerospace and building systems.
Hydraulic powered elevators started to be known as practical options when Edoux exhibited one of these at Paris. These elevators were used widely in United States and Europe by the year 1878. The top speed of these elevators was 150 meters/minute.
And in year 1880, when the world was adopting the electrical power, Siemens, a German company showcased an electric powered elevator. The rotation speed of this direct current motor was controlled using worm gears. The first ever DC motor was used in 1884 in USA. After some years, one of the Elisha’s sons - Norton Otis in year 1889 also developed an electric elevator. This was first elevator that was direct connected. This was installed in New York. This elevator could take load of around 675 Kgs with a speed of 30 meters/minute.
In 1889, the world of elevators also saw oil powered hydraulic elevator which was first installed in Paris Eiffel Tower. In 1890, alternating current motor was also introduced which further gave boost to use of electric motors. Three years later, the US market also witnessed traction current elevators. With this method, a car could be connected to counterweight using pulley and rope with support of the traction power. Since using this method, little electric power was required, lifting cars up to the high rise buildings became easy and feasible.
Soon thereafter, Ward-Leonard’s method added to evolution of elevator technology. Otis Company launched this technology to market as the multi-voltage systems and Westinghouse introduced it as variable voltage technology. Additionally, DC system that made use of car levelling tool lead to improved quality of landing as well ride on each of the floors.
In 1922, Westinghouse introduced gearless elevators in Chicago and in the same year launched fastest elevators that had automatic landing mechanism. This elevator boasted speed of 420 meters/minute.
In 1930s, elevator technology had been around for 75 years and architects could dream of skyscrapers as high as 100 stories and more. And this was the time when Mitsubishi also entered in the elevator business. The company built on the technology and gave the biggest breakthroughs in the elevator industry. From hoists to the elevators that are as fast as 1000 meters/minute and more, elevator industry has come a long way since its start.
Hopefully next time we climb an elevator, we would take a moment to thank the inventors of this flying machine.