Malls, airports, and casinos are all places you have probably used an escalator. The moving staircase is an alternative to elevators and is something everyone knows how to use. Some step onto them and ride to the top or bottom, while some still walk to make the trip even faster. But where did the idea for the escalator come from?
A man from Massachusetts named Nathan Ames is credited with patenting the first escalator in 1859, despite the fact that no working model of his design was ever built. It wasn’t until 30 years later in 1889 that Leamon Souder patented his escalator-like device that used a series of steps and links jointed to each other to carry passengers between floors. However, just like Ames’ model, Souder’s was never built either. Souder would then create four more escalator-style patents, including two that were for a spiral moving staircase. Yet again, all of his detailed drawings would stay on paper and never constructed.
In 1892, Jesse Reno patented the “Endless Conveyor or Elevator,” and George Wheeler patented his ideas for a more recognizable moving staircase. Just as the inventors before them, neither were ever built. Three years later, Charles Seeberger began producing drawings for a form of moving staircase similar to the one Wheeler created. Seeberger’s design was much like the escalators that are used today, except they did not have the comb-style stairs for safety.
Seeberger would eventually buy out Wheeler’s patent in 1897 and incorporated his designs into his own. He would then join the Otis Elevator Company in 1899, who would build the first ever working moving staircase. The name “escalator” came from the Latin word “scala,” which means steps, and the word “elevator,” which Otis used for the name of their moving lift.
A Frenchman would invent a “step-less” escalator in 1898 that was used in London’s Harrods store. This escalator used a continuous leather belt made from many pieces linked together that traveled only in the upward direction. It was said that customers who were unnerved by the experience were revived with free smelling salts and cognac.
Otis owned the term escalator so in the first half of the twentieth century other manufacturers of similar products had to market them under different names. Other products were named “Motorstair,” “Electirc Stairway,” and “Moving Stairs.”
A Swiss company called Schindler introduced their first version of the escalator in the mid-1930s. Today, the Schindler Company is the largest maker of escalators and second largest maker of elevators in the world.
Today, there are escalators everywhere, and they are just a norm to people. Their convenience and ability to take people to other floors quickly without waiting have made them a very popular invention.