Today we enter an elevator and press the button for which floor we want to go to. However, elevators weren’t always operated by the riders. Early elevators had operators who were in charge of getting the elevator where the passengers needed to go. Electronics would prove to be the demise of this profession.
Anyone can operate an elevator these days. You step in, press the desired floor and you’re off. Before electronics, riding an elevator was a much different experience. The elevator operator was in charge of opening and closing the doors, controlling the direction and speed of the car, and taking requests from the passengers. The operator was also responsible for knowing what was on each floor and announcing it to the passengers. Businesses used elevator operators as a valuable public relations tool. Like today’s bell hop outside hotels, the elevator operator provided a familiar face and friendly hello to anyone who visited the building.
Marshall Field’s was Chicago’s premier department store through most of the twentieth century. There were elevator operators in the department store up until the early 1960’s. All of the elevator operators were young females who had to complete “charm school”. They were expected to greet the passengers and take them to their desired floor. A customer would enter the elevator, tell the operator what they were looking to purchase, and the operator would know exactly what floor it was on.
It was almost an art and acquired skill to correctly operate an elevator. The elevator was controlled by a hand operated controller for speed and direction. The operator had full control over the elevator car, and was responsible for stopping it so the elevator aligned with the floor. If not done correctly, the passengers would be in for a bumpy up and down ride until the elevator was aligned properly for a safe exit. By the mid-1960s, electronics were becoming popular and the days of the elevator operator were numbered.