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Fascinating facts about the invention of the
by Elisha Graves Otis in 1852.

In 1852 Elisha Graves Otis, invented the first safety brake for elevators. With his installation of the first safe elevator in 1853 he literally started the elevator industry. His invention enabled buildings – and architects’ imaginations – to climb ever skyward, giving a new and bolder shape to the modern urban skyline. Today you can ride an Otis elevator with confidence, knowing that it represents 150 years of experience in both safety and quality.



Invention: elevator, safety brake in 1852
1857 Steam Powered Passenger Elevator courtesy
Function: noun / el·e·va·tor
Definition: A platform or an enclosure raised and lowered in a vertical shaft to transport people or freight. The shaft contains the operating equipment, motor, cables, and accessories.
Patent: 31,128 (US) issued January 15, 1861
Inventor: Elisha Graves Otis
Elisha Graves Otis courtesy
Criteria; First to invent. First to patent. First practical. Entrepreneur.
Birth: August 3, 1811 in Halifax, Vermont
Death: April 8, 1861 in Yonkers, New York
Nationality: American
1852 invents a safety latch for hoisting equipment
1853 starts a company to manufacture safe elevators. Sells elevator to hoist freight
1854 Otis demonstrates the elevator at the World's Fair, Crystal Palace exposition in New York City
1857 Installs the first passenger safe elevator in a New York department store
1861 receives patent for improvements to hoisting apparatus, safety brake
1861 after his death his sons form Otis Brothers & Company
over 2,000 Otis elevators were in use in office buildings, hotels and department stores
Otis Brothers merged with 14 other elevator entities to form the Otis Elevator Company
1903 introduced the gearless traction electric elevator
1931 first Otis double-deck elevator was installed
elevator, safety elevator, safety brake for elevators, elisha graves otis, otis elevatorm UTC, patent 31128, invention, history, inventor of, history of, who invented, invention of, fascinating facts.
The Story:
Imagine the skyline of a modern city if the elevator did not exist. Buildings would be limited to five or six stories. Most of the architecture of the 20th and 21st century would be impossible. Office towers, hotels and high-rise apartments would hardly stand in their present form.

The need for vertical transport is as old as civilization. Over the centuries, mankind has employed ingenious forms of lifting. The earliest lifts used man, animal and water power to raise the load. Lifting devices relied on these basic forms of power from the early agricultural societies until the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

From ancient times through the Middle Ages, and into the 13th century, man or animal power was the driving force behind hoisting devices. In ancient Greece, Archimedes developed an improved lifting device operated by ropes and pulleys, in which the hoisting ropes were coiled around a winding drum by a capstan and levers. By A.D. 80, gladiators and wild animals rode crude elevators up to the arena level of the Roman Coliseum.

Medieval records contain numerous drawings of hoists lifting men and supplies to isolated locations. Among the most famous is the hoist at the monastery of St. Barlaam in Greece. The monastery stood on a pinnacle approximately (200 ft) above the ground. Its hoist, which employed a basket or cargo net, was the only means up or down.

The first elevator designed for a passemger was built in 1743 for King Louis XV at his palace in France. The one-person contraption went up only one floor, from the first to the second. Known as the "Flying Chair," it was on the outside of the building, and was entered by the king via his balcony. The mechanism consisted of a carefully balanced arrangement of weights and pulleys hanging inside a chimney. Men stationed inside the chimney then raised or lowered the Flying Chair at the king's command. 

By 1850 steam and hydraulic elevators had been introduced, but it was in 1852 that the landmark event in elevator history occurred: the invention of the world's first safety elevator by Elisha Graves Otis. The first passenger elevator was installed by Otis in New York in 1857. After Otis' death in 1861, his sons, Charles and Norton, built on his heritage, creating Otis Brothers & Co. in 1867. By 1873 over 2,000 Otis elevators were in use in office buildings, hotels and department stores across America, and five years later the first Otis hydraulic passenger elevator was installed. The Era of the Skyscraper followed.... and in 1889 Otis revealed the first successful direct-connected geared electric elevator machines.

In 1898 overseas business had added to the company's growth, and Otis Brothers merged with 14 other elevator entities to form the Otis Elevator Company. In 1903 Otis introduced the design that would become the "backbone" of the elevator industry. The gearless traction electric elevator, engineered and proven to outlast the building itself. This ushered in the age of high-rise structures, ultimately including New York's Empire State Building, Chicago's John Hancock Center, and Toronto's CN Tower.

Otis is part of United Technologies Corporation, a Fortune 500 company and world leader in the building systems and aerospace industries. With 1.7 million Otis elevators and 110,000 escalators in operation, Otis touches the lives of people in more than 200 countries around the world.


Elishs Otis Biography   from The Great Idea Finder
Invention of the Escalator    from The Great Idea Finder
Transportation History   from The Great Idea Finder

1000 Inventions & Discoveries
by Roger Bridgman / Hardcover: 256 pages / Dorling Kindersley Publishing; (2002)
Fascinating stories and vivid photographs and illustrations tell the tales of the developments in technology and natural science that have shaped our world. Profiles of the famous (and not-so-famous) men and women who have had "Eureka!" moments, a running timeline which puts the inventions and discoveries in historical context.

The Engines of Our Ingenuity : An Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture
by John H. Lienhard / Paperback: 272 pages / Oxford University Press, USA (December 4, 2003)
Based on episodes from Lienhard's widely broadcast public radio series, this intriguing set of essays begins with a simple premise: more than we often care to admit, our lives are shaped by our machines. Fleshing out this proposition, Lienhard ransacks 2,000 years of scientific and technological history, cobbling together a quirky biography of the strange being he calls homo technologicus.
Otis Giving Rise to the Modern City
by Jason Goodwin / Hardcover: 320 pages / Ivan R Dee, Inc.; (September 2001)

The skyscraper, that most durable symbol of modernity, would not have been possible without the elevator, and the elevator as we have come to know it is largely the product of the company that Elisha Otis founded in the 1850s.

Official Web site for Otis Elevator
The company, founded by Elisha Graves Otis, web site.
Otis is part of United Technologies Corporation, a Fortune 500 company and world leader in the building systems.
Elevator History
The earliest lifts used man, animal and water power to raise the load. Lifting devices relied on these basic forms of power from the early agricultural societies until the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.
Hydraulic Lifts
The Engines of Our Ingenuity Series. Article by John H. Lienhard. Available in text or audio.
A Moment in Time
An experimental safety device developed by Elisha Graves Otis, a Yonkers, New York machinist, gradually transformed the urban landscape. His creativity added a new dimension to city living. Things could now go up. Article from A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.
Invention Dimension - Inventor of the Week
Celebrates inventor/innovator role models through outreach activities and annual awards to inspire a new generation of American scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs. Elisha Otis featured in 1996 for his invention of the Elevator.
National Inventors Hall of Fame
Located at Inventure Place, the online home of creative minds. Elisha Otis inducted 1988 for his invention Improvement in Hoisting Apparatus Elevator Brake, Patent Number 31,128.
The Elevator Museum
Elisha Graves Otis didn't invent the elevator, he invented something perhaps more important-the elevator safety device that eventually made high-rise buildings practical.
Celebrating Otis’ History of Innovation
Excerpts from Otis: Giving Rise to the Modern City, written by Jason Goodwin.. At the Otis Evelator parent company, United Technologies Corporation Web site.
Elevator-World Magazine
Lots to do including a store to shop in for Elevator merchandise.
The Elevator Escalator Safety Foundation
Their  mission is to educate the public on the safe and proper use of elevators, escalators and moving walks through informational programs.

Internet Elevator Service
e*Service combines REM data with technicians’ reports to give customers access to information about their elevators and escalators directly over the Internet. Internet monitoring through e*Service helps customers to better manage their buildings by giving them access to reports showing trends in uptime, service call types and technicians’ documentation—anytime, anywhere.

Major Elevator Components
Engineers claim that all machines can be reduced to the fundamental components known to the early /Greeks - the lever, the wheel and axle, the pulley, the inclined plane/wedge and the screw.


  • Otis Elevators is the world's largest company in the manufacture and service of elevators, escalators, moving walkways and other horizontal transportation systems.
  • Market Position Approximately 48,000 elevators and escalators sold annually
  • US $5.5 billion in 1997, of which 83 percent was generated outside the United States.
  • More than 1.2 million Otis elevators and escalators in operation throughout the world.
Designated trademarks and brands are the property of their respective owners.
Reference Sources in BOLD Type. This page revised March 26, 2007.

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