History of the Elevator

Elisha Otis

Group of business people inside an office lift
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An elevator by definition is a platform or an enclosure raised and lowered in a vertical shaft to transport people and freight. The shaft contains the operating equipment, motor, cables, and accessories.

Primitive elevators were in use as early as the 3rd century BC, operated by human, animal, or water wheel power. In 1743, a counter-weighted, man-powered, personal elevator was built for King Luis XV connecting his apartment in Versailles with that of his mistress, Madame de Chateauroux, whose quarters were one floor above King Luis.

19th Century Elevators

From about the middle of the 19th century, elevators were powered, often steam-operated, and were used for conveying materials in factories, mines, and warehouses.

In 1823, two architects Burton and Hormer built an "ascending room" as they called it, this crude elevator was used to lift paying tourists to a platform for a panorama view of London. In 1835, architects Frost and Stutt built the "Teagle", a belt-driven, counter-weighted, and steam-driven lift was developed in England.

Hydraulic Crane

In 1846, Sir William Armstrong introduced the hydraulic crane, and in the early 1870s, hydraulic machines began to replace the steam-powered elevator. The hydraulic elevator is supported by a heavy piston, moving in a cylinder, and operated by the water (or oil) pressure produced by pumps.

Elisha Otis

In 1853, American inventor Elisha Otis demonstrated a freight elevator equipped with a safety device to prevent falling in case a supporting cable should break.
This increased public confidence in such devices. In 1853, Elisha Otis established a company for manufacturing elevators and patented (1861) a steam elevator. While, Elisha Graves Otis did not actually invent the first elevator, he did invent the brake used in modern elevators, and his brakes made skyscrapers a practical reality.

In 1857, Elisha Otis and the Otis Elevator Company began manufacturing passenger elevators.

A steam-powered passenger elevator was installed by the Otis Brothers in a five-story department store owned by E.W Haughtwhat & Company of Manhattan. It was the first public elevator.

Electric Elevators

Electric elevators came into to use toward the end of the 19th century. The first one was built by the German inventor Werner von Siemens in 1880.

Black inventor, Alexander Miles patented an electric elevator (U.S. pat#371,207) on October 11, 1887.

In a typical elevator, the car is raised and lowered by six to eight motor-driven wire ropes that are attached to the top of the car at one end, travel around a pair of sheaves, and are again attached to a counterweight at the other end.

The counterweight adds accelerating force when the elevator car is ascending and provides a retarding effort when the car is descending so that less motor horsepower is required.

The counterweight is a collection of metal weights that is equal to the weight of the car containing about 45% of its rated load. A set of chains are looped from the bottom of the counterweight to the underside of the car to help maintain balance by offsetting the weight of the suspension ropes.

Guide rails that run the length of the shaft keep the car and counterweight from swaying or twisting during their travel. Rollers are attached to the car and the counterweight to provide smooth travel along the guide rails.

The traction to raise and lower the car comes from the friction of the wire ropes against the grooved sheaves. The main sheave is driven by an electric motor.

Most elevators use a direct current motor because its speed can be precisely controlled to allow smooth acceleration and deceleration. Motor-generator (M-G) sets typically provide to dc power for the drive motor. Newer systems use a static drive control.

The elevator controls vary the motor's speed based on a set of feedback signals that indicate the car's position in the shaftway. As the car approaches its destination, a switch near the landing signals the controls to stop the car at floor level. Additional shaftway limit switches are installed to monitor over travel conditions.

Elisha Otis was born on August 3 1811, in Halifax, Vermont, the youngest of six children. At the age of twenty, Elisha Otis moved to Troy, New York, and worked as a wagon driver. In 1834, he married Susan A. Houghton and had two sons with her. Unfortunately his Susan Otis died, leaving Otis a young widower with two small children.

Begins Inventing

In 1845, Elisha Otis moved to Albany, New York after marrying his second wife, Elizabeth A. Boyd. Otis found a job as a master mechanic for Otis Tingley & Company making bedsteads.It was here that Otis first began inventing and among his first inventions were: a railway safety brake, rail turners for speeding the making of rails for four-poster beds, and an improved turbine wheel.

Elevator Brakes

In 1852, Elisha Otis moved to Yonkers, New York, to work for the bedstead firm of Maize & Burns. It was the owner of the company, Josiah Maize that inspired Elisha Otis to start designing elevators, Maize needed a new hoisting device to lift heavy equipment to the upper floor of his factory.

Public Demonstration

For Josiah Maize, Elisha Otis invented an "Improvement in Hoisting Apparatus Elevator Brake" and demonstrated his new invention to the public in 1854, at the Crystal Palace Exposition in New York.

During the demonstration, Elisha Otis hoisted the elevator car to the top of the building, then deliberately cut the elevator hoisting cables, however, instead of crashing, the elevator car was stopped because of the brakes that Otis had invented.

Elisha Otis died of diphtheria on April 8th, 1861, in Yonkers, New York.