The Extinction of Elevator Operators

There once was a time where every elevator in the country had an attendant to open and close the doors, greet guests and address any problems that cropped up. Not so today. We’re willing to bet there are still a few elevator operators here and there for historical and tourism purposes, but today, elevator operators with a functional role to play have largely gone extinct. Let’s take a look at why.

Extinction of the Elevator Operator

Like many other industries, technology and electronics would prove to be the demise of the elevator operator. Today, we take for granted that we can simply push a button for the floor we want, the door will close and we’ll be zipped away to our destination. Not so back then. It took a lot more work, which is why an operator was needed. It wasn’t always easy, as the operator had to open and close the manual doors, control the direction and speed of the car, take requests from passengers on board, and announce what businesses were located on each floor as they approached.

But perhaps even more valuable than all that was the personal touch operators gave their passengers. They proved to be a valuable public relations tool to the business or building in which they worked, offering a friendly face and greeting every day for clients, guests, customers and residents.

Many elevator operators were females, who, incidentally, were expected to go to charm school first to polish their social skills. At least, that’s what was expected of them at Marshall Field’s in Chicago. This premier department store was where everyone went to purchase clothing and home goods. Their role was to greet the customer and bring them to their desired floor. It wasn’t until the 1960s when elevator operators there were replaced by the latest automated elevator cars.

There was a fair amount of skill that went into operating an elevator car, featuring a hand control called a rheostat lever that could dictate the speed and direction. They had to have an eye for detail, as the floor and car had to line up perfectly so passengers could safely get on and off. Otherwise, there was a lot of “jiggling” till the operator could get it right. Indeed, it was an acquired skill to provide a smooth ride up and down to put passengers at ease.

By the 1970s, many of the country’s attended elevators had been replaced, leaving thousands out of work. Today, some elevator operators do remain, like we said previously, for historic or tourism relevance. Many large cities such as New York still have operators within wealthy and prestigious apartment houses as a throwback to a more opulent time. They do much more than push buttons, though; they deliver packages, sort mail, and help guests and residents with any requests.

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