The Elevator: Going Up? Going Down?


If you have ever been atop the Empire State Building, the Tour Eiffel or even the roof of your building, you may have been in awe at architects' abilities to design buildings that stretch toward the sky. Few realize that without one man's invention, generations would have never dreamed of building them.

Elisha Otis was born in Halifax, Vermont. He was inspired to design what was then called the "safety elevator" when he was asked to move equipment into the warehouse of his employer, a New York bed factory. Most elevators of the time were extremely dangerous; Otis' employer needed an elevator that could carry people and equipment safely to the upper floors of its new building.

At the Crystal Palace Exposition in New York in 1853, Otis demonstrated his solution. A large crowd watched breathlessly from the floor far below as Otis ascended in his new elevator. Stopping at a dizzying height, Otis told his assistant to cut the elevator's cord!

The crowd let out a gasp of relief when the elevator platform did not come crashing to the floor. The key to Otis' invention was a toothed guiderail located on each side of the elevator shaft that caught the elevator car. If the cable failed, the teeth would engage, locking the car in place.

The next time you ride an elevator, take a look around; there is a good chance you will spot the "Otis" name.

*The article was published in the PSC Newslertter, 2nd School Semester 2010/2011.

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