The Evolution of the Elevator

Elevators have changed a lot in the past 120 years. The first elevators arrived as far back as the 1820s, although some records show the use of primitive elevator systems in ancient Roman times. says the 19th century brought steam- and water-power elevators designed to convey materials in factories and warehouses, operating through the use of leather belts and pulley systems.

Vintage Elevators

Let’s take a trip back and see how some early elevator discoveries have evolved into the modern marvels they are today:

1852: Elisha Graves Otis invented the first safety brake designed for elevators. Prior to this, elevators were mostly used for freight because the first systems couldn’t really guarantee safety with such a simple pulley system transporting humans. This key invention made it possible for builders to make taller and taller buildings that included multiple stories. These were used for freight at first but were then transitioned to transporting people.

1854: Otis brought his concept for his elevator to the World’s Fair in New York City. This led to the installation of the first passenger-safe elevator in 1857. He patented and made improvements to the hoisting apparatus and safety brakes a few years later. And by the time 1873 rolled around, more than 2,000 Otis elevators were being used throughout the nation in department stores, hotels and office buildings.

1903: Otis introduced yet another of his designs featuring the gearless traction electric elevator. These were later incorporated into high-rises seen in large cities today. The first of these models were exposed and not enclosed. Naturally, this was a safety concern for many reasons – especially when elevators began transporting humans. It was understandably scary to ride elevators at the turn of the century, which is about the time calls for reform started to emerge.

1921: The first edition of ASME A17.1 Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators came out. This was the result of a meeting between the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the insurance, enforcement and elevator industries. Thus, codes were updated and mandated in regard to the use of enclosed cars and hoist ways, as well as traction and hydraulic elevators. While elevators back then had elevator operators; after World War II, basic automation started to emerge, which called for improvements in electronics that incorporated the use of push buttons that passengers could operate themselves. It would negate the need for elevator operators completely.

This wasn’t met with the excitement you may have assumed. At first, many people were afraid to ride elevators sans operators. But after they got used to it, passengers gradually embraced the idea.

Today, elevators feature relay control systems that have switched to solid state devices. Many advancements have occurred in the last 120 years, all of them culminating in the innovative versions we see in a variety of modern buildings.

Mowrey Elevators is always aiming to improve our innovation and quality, which is what has made us the trusted name in elevators today. We boast a state of the art manufacturing facility and multiple service locations backed by 40 years of experience. Contact us to find out more about our inventory and repair services at 800-441-4449.