The History of the American Elevator

When it comes to the most convenient form of vertical transportation, it’s hard to beat the elevator. Since their introduction to the world, which is thought to go back to as far as the third century B.C.E., elevators have provided people and objects with a means of transportation when no other option was available.

As the top choice for elevator installation and service in South Florida, Rise Above Elevator is naturally interested in the history of elevators. Many of our clients have asked us questions on this topic in the past, so we figured we’d devote a blog post highlighting some of the most interesting points of elevator history. While you may not have thought the history of elevators could be exciting, we believe you’ll think differently by the end of this post.

The History of Elevators

home elevator

When elevators (in their most basic form) were first used in the third century B.C.E., they were known as hoists. Rather than the machines we think of today, hoists were operated with a water wheel or with human or animal power. A Greek mathematician and engineer named Archimedes is said to have created the first crude elevator. It was operated with ropes, weights, and wrenches. His work on elevator science became the foundation of elevator technology for more than 2000 years.

In the 18th century, a more modern elevator was created for King Louis XV. It was made to connect his apartment in Versailles with that of his mistress, Madame de Châteauroux, as she lived one floor above him.

In the 1800s, elevators continued to evolve. While they were once primarily steam-powered, hydraulic elevators that used water pressure for power started to become more common. These elevators were typically used to transport materials in factories, mines, and warehouses, often in Europe.

In 1823, two architects named Burton and Homer built what they called an “ascending room.” It was used to lift tourists to a platform for a better view of London. Then, in 1835, architects Frost and Stuart built the “Teagle.” This was a belt-driven, counter-weighted, and steam-driven elevator.

Just eleven years later, Sir William Armstrong created the hydraulic crane. The hydraulic elevator is operated by a heavy piston that moves in a cylinder, and is operated by the water or oil pressure that is produced by pumps.

Over the years, elevators were further modernized, including in 1909, when 41 buildings in New York City got the first elevators with installed telephones. Then, in 1926, Ruth Safety Garages in Chicago had the first elevators installed that could transport cars in all three dimensions.

How Elevators Changed America

how elevators changed america

When it comes to how elevators changed America, it’s important to understand how they developed and changed over time.

In 1852, an American inventor named Elisha Graves Otis moved to Yonkers, New York where he got a job at Maize & Burns. Josiah Maize, the owner, inspired Otis to start designing elevators when he needed a new hoisting device to lift heavy equipment to the upper floor of his factory.

The next year, Otis introduced a freight elevator equipped with a safety device to prevent falling in case one of the supporting cables broke. This safety contrivance encouraged the public to trust the reliability of these machines. In 1853, Otis established a company for manufacturing elevators and patented a steam elevator.

One of Otis’ inventions was called the “Improvement in Hoisting Apparatus Elevator Brake.” Although he didn’t invent the actual elevator, his elevator brake revolutionized the industry. He demonstrated this invention to the public at the Crystal Palace Exposition in New York in 1854. Otis hoisted the elevator car to the top of the building, and then cut the elevator hoisting cables. Instead of crashing to the ground, the elevator car was stopped by the brakes Otis had invented.

In 1857, the Otis Elevator Company began manufacturing passenger elevators, and the world’s first public elevator was installed in a five-story department store owned by E.W. Haughwout and Company of Manhattan.

Otis was also tasked with creating elevators for the Eiffel Tower when it was first displayed to the world in 1889. You can learn a lot more about this here.

In 1880, a German inventor named Wener Von Siemens invented the first electric elevator. In 1887, an American inventor named Alexander Miles patented the electric elevator. By 1889, the first commercially successful electric elevator was installed.

History of Residential Elevators

budgeting for your home elevator

When residential elevators were first used, elevator cars were elegantly designed, often with chandeliers and lounging furniture. This was when elevators weren’t as common in buildings, but as they became more prevalent, their design tended to be more simple.

Did you know we’ve written a handy builder’s guide for installing a residential elevator? Check it out here.

Today, there are four common types of residential elevators.

Roped Hydraulic Elevators 

Roped hydraulic elevators are operated with a hydraulic pump that’s connected to a piston and pulley. They work well in residential settings because they don’t require an adjoining machine room.

We offer the smoothest hydraulic residential elevator in the industry. Our residential hydraulic elevator lifts are 2 to 1 roped hydro-systems with structurally engineered slings to carry your cab seamlessly.

Our Quiet Ride Lift ‘QRL’ basic standard package travels at 40 feet per minute, but we also offer quicker speeds depending on the overhead and clearances of the hoistway. The QRL is also built to fit your hoist-way to allow the maximum amount of square footage for your cab.

Winding Drum Elevators

Operated with a revolving winch and counterweight, winding drum elevators have an electric motor that winds the cable through the drum, hence their name. These are often installed in homes because homeowners appreciate that no separate machine room is required, and they’re cheaper than many other options.

Our MRL home lift is a winding drum overhead motor fully engineered lift. It relies on two ⅜ of an inch top grade cables to raise and lower the elevator. This unit travels at 40 feet per minute, like all of our elevators, every cab is built to the size of your hoist-way so you can get the maximum amount of square footage in your cab.

Traction Drive Elevators

These are more common in commercial elevator systems, but occasionally you’ll see a traction drive elevator used in a residential setting.

Pneumatic Vacuum Elevators

These are the most modern of the residential elevators, and they can usually be installed quickly and are a cost-effective option. Self-supporting vacuum elevators are made with aluminum and polycarbonate, and they don’t need any excavating done for a pit or hoistway. Conveniently, they can be fitted to almost any two or three-story home.

Before you install any type of residential elevator, be sure to keep these four important considerations in mind.

Famous Elevators

You may have heard of one of several famous elevators from around the world. For example, The Hammetschwand Lift in Switzerland is the highest exterior elevator in Europe. It travels 153 meters up to the summit of the Hammetschwand in less than one minute.

The highest and heaviest outdoor elevator in the world is said to be The Bailong Elevator in China. This glass elevator was built onto the side of a massive cliff in the Wulingyuan area at 1,070 feet.

If adding a residential elevator to your home is something you’ve always wanted, or if you’re ready to modernize the one you already have, get in touch with us today! Our highly skilled technicians look forward to helping you out with all of your elevator needs. We also offer maintenance and service. Contact us today for a free estimate.

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