Eyes Wide Open

History of Elevators and Escalators

Veronica •

In today’s world, elevators are the most commonly used vertical transportation method for people or goods. Having to visit a building that is above 4 stories tall, you will likely need additional lift assistance.

The Escalator

Another version of the elevator is the moving staircase, also known as the escalator. The word was first adopted and used by Nathan Ames, although he had no working design or model of a moving staircase whatsoever. The original patent was made by Leamon Souder in 1889, and the first working prototype was built by Jesse W. Reno in 1891, naming it the “inclined elevator”. Reno was responsible for the design and development of the first working escalator installations in the underground subway system in London in 1906. 
Unfortunately, the experimental device never saw the light of day and can be seen as a museum exhibit in the London Transport Museum. Later on, the concept of the “step-less” escalator was installed in Harrods Knightsbridge by one of the big French manufacturers. This marked the beginning of the escalator boom in Europe.

When was the first elevator invented?

Whilst all tall buildings have either one or a set of elevators, the first signs of elevators in the pre-industrial era were documented in 236BC. According to historians, it was Vitruvius who reported the first elevator invention by Archimedes. Back in the day, elevators were not powered by electricity, but by hand or animals. Looking back into the history, the materials that were likely used for the development of an elevator were hemp ropes and wood. Later on, according to the Book of Secrets, there was a description of an elevator that was used to lift larger battering ram for the purpose of destroying fortresses.

The first elevator prototypes were discovered in France and England in the 17th century. Medieval lifts used systems based on windlasses or hoists, while the discovery of the screw drive turned out to be ground-breaking and helped to improve the elevator technology to what we use as a today’s passenger, service or heavy-duty elevator.

Officially, the first safety device that prevents elevators from falling, was invented by Elisha Graves Otis. Later after his discovery and a significant publicity gained through participating in the annual New Your World’s Fair, his company gained exposure and his mechanism became the most commonly used by construction developers and lift consultants.

Elevator’s Design

The basic design that a typical elevator revolves around is pretty simple – a platform that is either pushed or pulled by a mechanism. Although modern-day elevators consist of box-shaped cages, there are industrial lifts that are simplified and do not have any walls or a cabin-like structure for more flexibility when moving heavy duty goods up and down and transporting them to the location of choice. Later on, the staircase-style elevator, named escalator, was invented, developed and installed in multiple locations to become a mandatory functionality for most shopping and convention centres, as well as large open-space private or public buildings with multiple floors.