We owe a lot to the invention of the elevator, as it has transformed the expansion of businesses, the working industry, and the world. Indeed, it’s responsible for shaping modern life in ways most people don’t think about often or even appreciate. You may live in a tall apartment building or work in a high-rise, likely using elevators every day. However, you probably never stop to think about how that elevator came to be or how much they influence your daily life.
The first elevator, invented by Greek mathematician Archimedes in 236 B.C., incorporated a design that has evolved a lot over the centuries. King Louis XV of France featured a one-story elevator within his palace, known as a “flying chair,” which worked by pulling on a rope.
Elevators leaped forward in innovation during the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s. They were mostly used in mines, to meet the need for large amounts of fuel that transported people and materials. But those early elevators came with safety risks. That’s when Elisha Otis invented a safety brake designed to stop an elevator from dropping, even when the cable had been cut. Because elevators were made safer and more reliable in this regard, they started to be seen in tall, modern buildings.
It wasn’t till the 1870s, when elevators began showing up in office buildings, that the technology started to leave a true mark on urban culture. Business owners only had to look upward to see room for growth where before, there was nothing but air. This development was particularly welcome in New York, where horizontal space was at a premium.
Advances in elevator technology, in combination with new steel frame construction methods, pushed the height limits of buildings up higher and higher.
The arrival of the elevator changed much more than urban planning; it transformed the hierarchy of buildings on the interior too. Higher floors used to be distant, dirty spaces reserved for maids and low-rent tenants. VIPs would only climb a couple of flights at most, which is why you see so many brownstone-style homes today, known for their high-ceilinged parlor floors.
The elevator ushered in the age of the gilded penthouse, as businessmen and lawyers started to appreciate the advantages of bird’s-eye views and respites from loud street noises. Hotel owners began to turn their top-floor rooms into the nicest ones.
Before elevators became popular, builders could only create structures where people could climb stairs to upper floors within reason. Had the elevator not become so widely adopted, modern buildings would be no taller than 8 stories or so. This ability to make tall buildings made it possible for towns and cities to grow and build higher, paving the way for large numbers of people living in a single building.
This also allowed for business to boom, with skyscrapers able to transport employees and clients to and from offices to conduct important business.
In a nutshell, without the elevator, there would be no downtown skyscrapers or apartment-living high-rises. In fact, city life as we now know it would not be possible, with the elevator’s role in American history being no less profound than that of the automobile. Whereas cars made it possible for people to spread out horizontally, which encouraged sprawl and suburbia, elevators pushed them a toward life in denser clusters of tall vertical columns.
Today, there are 900,000 elevators in operation around the world.
Need a repair on your elevator or are you looking to outfit your building with a new one? We can help. Contact Mowrey Elevator today.