Early records suggest that elevators have been around since 3rd century BC. There is a reference of King Louis XV of France building a “flying chair” for his mistress, Madame de Châteauroux at the Chateau de Versailles in 1743. The first elevator using a screw driven mechanism was built by Ivan Kulibin for the Winter Palace of Saint Petersburg in 1793.
Mid nineteenth century saw some major developments in elevators. There was need to transport raw materials in coal mines and factories. These elevators were operated using hands or driven by steam and water hydraulic pistons. In 1823, Architects Burton and Horner created an elevator which they called the “ascending room”. This elevator was used to lift tourists to a considerable height so as to allow them to get a panoramic view of London. It was powered by steam.
A major drawback of elevators was that they would fall if the cable holding them broke. Elisha Otis is credited with inventing the safety brake in elevators making them more safe and efficient. Otis worked as a mechanic in Maize and Burns, a bedstead manufacturing firm in Yonkers, New York. The company was faced with the problem of transporting the bedsteads between floors without the risk of cable breaking. In 1852, Otis solved this problem by introducing a brake mechanism which would hold the elevator platform even if the cable failed. The platform moved freely in the elevator shaft. In case the cable broke, a spring mechanism would snap into the wooden notches made in the shaft and prevent the platform from falling.
Otis left Maize and Burns to market his invention. In order to boost up the sales, he demonstrated his safety elevator at the Crystal Palace in New York in 1854. He stood on a platform in the elevator shaft high above the crowd. His assistant then dramatically cut the rope suspending the platform on which he was standing. The platform dropped just a few inches before coming a stop. Otis’ demonstration was a huge success and it managed to increase the sales of the safety elevator.
In 1857, the first commercial passenger elevator using the safety brake was installed in the E.V. Haughwout and Company department store at Broadway and Broome Street in New York City. Today Otis is the world’s leading elevator company.
- Book: 1001 Inventions That Changed The World – Passenger Elevator, Pg. 347
- TIME-LIFE American Inventors: A History of Genius