The Story of Elevators: How a Simple Invention Changed the World

Saurabh Mhatre
2 min readJan 20, 2024
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Building lifts, also known as elevators, are essential for modern architecture, as they enable the construction of tall skyscrapers and towers. But how did building lifts come to be?

The idea of lifting people or objects to higher levels dates back to ancient times.

According to some sources, the Greek mathematician Archimedes invented the first known elevator in 236 BC, using ropes, pulleys, and a capstan. The Romans also used elevators to bring gladiators and animals into the Colosseum arena. However, these early elevators were not very safe or reliable, as they depended on human or animal power and could easily break or snap.

The invention of the steam engine in the 18th century led to the development of more powerful and efficient elevators, but they still had a major flaw: they could not stop if the rope or cable failed. This made people afraid of using them, especially for passenger travel. Many accidents and deaths occurred due to elevator failures, such as the one that killed 20 people in a New York hotel in 1850.

The breakthrough came in 1852, when an American inventor named Elisha Graves Otis created a safety brake that revolutionized the elevator industry. His device used a spring and a set of hooks that would lock the elevator car in place if the rope broke. He demonstrated his invention at the New York World’s Fair in 1854, by cutting the rope of an elevator platform while he was standing on it. The platform stopped safely, and Otis exclaimed: “All safe, gentlemen, all safe!”

Otis’ safety brake made elevators much safer and more trustworthy, and soon they became popular and widespread. In 1857, Otis installed the first commercial passenger elevator in a New York department store. In 1880, he introduced the first electric elevator, which was faster and smoother than the steam-powered ones. By the end of the 19th century, elevators had become a common feature of urban life, and enabled the rise of the skyscraper era.

The invention of building lifts changed the world in many ways. It allowed people to live and work in taller and denser buildings, saving space and resources. It also improved accessibility and mobility for people with disabilities, elderly, or injured. It also influenced the culture and psychology of cities, as people could experience different views and perspectives from different heights. Elevators are now an indispensable part of modern society.

This is the end of the inspirational story about the invention of building lifts. I hope you found it interesting and informative.

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