Origins of ordinary things: The elevator


You can get to the 10th floor of a tall building in a matter of minutes without breaking a sweat, thanks to the elevator. Even though elevators are operated using modern information technology, their existence, or at least the idea of them, is not modern.

According to Today I Found Out, a knowledge dissemination platform, by 336 B.C, Romans were using rudimentary forms of elevators to move buildings and other heavy materials from one place to another. The elevators were platforms hoisted manually by people, animals and sometimes, water wheels.


In 1743, King Louis XV of France ordered for the manufacture of an elevator to transport him from his room to his mistress’ room. Referred to as the “flying chair,” King Louis XV’s elevator was hoisted by men in a chimney pulling on ropes. Later, a flying table was made so that if the king wanted to have uninterrupted dinner with his guests, he could ring a bell and his servants would elevate a table with food from the kitchen. This is according to the History website.


The first semblance of the modern elevator was built in 1823 by British architects Decimus Burton and Thomas Hormer. According to web-based Elevator History, it was an ascending room, powered by steam, whose purpose was to give tourists an elevated view of the city of London.


From then on, other architects and engineers began working on improved models. There are those that made elevators which were operated with water pressure because water was considered safer than steam. However, according to ThoughtCo, a knowledge platform, the hydraulic elevators proved impractical since deeper pits had to be dug for taller buildings.

Initially, elevators were prone to snapping and plummeting to the bottom of the shaft and so their use was largely limited to hoisting of materials to reduce the risk of injury and death.

In 1852 American industrialist Elisha Graves Otis made a safety break for the elevator. The way it worked was that a wooden frame was installed at the top of the elevator car. In case cables broke, the wooden frame would snap out and hit the walls of the shaft, preventing it from plummeting. This is according to Idea Finder, a knowledge platform.

After a successful demonstration of the safety hoist, a few years later, Otis installed the first passenger elevator and later, started an elevator company which is still the largest elevator company in the world so that most elevators have the word “Otis” written on them.

With advancements in technology, several improvements have been made over the years. Elevators now have motion sensors, cameras, sound systems, and other features. 

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