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How Elevators Changed New York City

skyscrapersThe development of the elevator ushered in changes in how Americans live and work. Nowhere was this change more profound than in New York City.

Before elevators were invented, buildings in New York were generally not more than six stories tall. After elevators began to be introduced, the well-to-do residents did not want to live on the upper floors, which they believed were intended for the poor. Business owners also wanted to work on the lower floors.

In 1854, Elisha Graves Otis demonstrated a mechanism to improve elevator safety, but it did not gain much attention at the time. In 1857, Eder V. Haughwout installed the first passenger elevator in New York in his fashion emporium, but it was removed three years later because the public did not accept it.

In 1870, the eight-story Equitable Life Assurance Building became the first office building to have a passenger elevator. For about 10 years, buildings were limited to a height of 11 stories. The world’s first skyscraper, the 55-story Woolworth Building, was built in 1913. Over time, a high-rise corner office became a status symbol.

Elevators were initially unpopular in apartment buildings because they allowed for mixing of classes. To keep rich and poor people separate, apartment buildings used passenger elevators to access luxury apartments and other elevators for the rest of the tenants. In the early 20th century, New York’s landscape began to change from mansions to apartment buildings, with apartments on upper floors becoming new status symbols.


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