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History of the Elevator

Early Elevator Design

The first reference to an elevator was actually in the mid-200s BC. Some of the first findings of elevators were cabs on a hemp rope that were powered by hand or by animals. We have come a long when since then. Elevators are now common and some people even have them in their homes. So how did the elevators we know today come to be?

Early Elevators

Elevators really started to take shape back in the mid-19th century. They were used in coal mines to move goods in bulk and operated with steam power. In 1823, an “ascending room” was built in London as a tourist attraction. They were able to elevate paying customers to a panoramic view of the city. 12 years later, a belt driven elevator with a counterweight called the “Teagle” was developed in England.

Elisha Otis

In 1852, Elisha Otis introduced the safety elevator. It prevented the fall of the cab if the cable broke. A governor device engages knurled rollers, locking the elevator to its guides if the elevator starts to descend at excessive speed. A very similar design is still used today. On March 23, 1857 the first Otis passenger elevator was installed at 488 Broadway in New York City. Today, the Otis Elevator Company is a part of United Technologies Corporation, the world’s largest manufacturer of vertical transport systems.

Advancement in the Elevator

The Equitable Life Building was completed in 1870 in New York City and was the first office building to feature passenger elevators. Ten years later in 1880, Werner von Siemens would invent the first electric elevator in Germany. The safety and speed of electric elevators would be significantly enhanced by Frank Sprague. He would add floor control, automatic elevators, acceleration control or cars, and safeties. Sprague’s electric elevator was able to run faster and with larger loads than hydraulic or steam elevators. He would later sell his elevator company to Otis in 1895.

The development of elevators was due to the need for movement of raw material like coal and lumber from hillsides. The technology that was developed from this need would provide the passenger and freight elevators that we use today.

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