Saturday, December 12, 2009

Otis's elevator, part 1

Elevators - an important thing in my life - have been around for 150 years, ever since American inventor Elisha Otis (1811-1861) made his vision a reality. He didn't invent the idea of the hoisting platform, but patented (1st illustration) a safety device that prevented it from falling if the cable failed. He showed off his safety elevator at the New York World's Fair in 1853 by standing on the platform and having an assistant sever the rope with an ax - causing it to drop only a few inches (2nd illustration). The crowd was amazed and orders poured in. Today the Otis Elevator Company is not only still in business, it is the largest in the manufacture, installation, and service of elevators, escalators, and moving walkways. There are about 2.2 million Otis elevators in operation worldwide, some of them by now antiques. In 1888, Otis won the contract to install the elevator in the Eiffel tower, and equipped New York's Flatiron Building (1902) and the Empire State Building (1931) with elevators. At 111-years-old, an Otis elevator being replaced in a coop at 34 Gramercy Park East was the "oldest operating elevator system in New York City." The passenger elevator in Asheville, North Carolina's Biltmore House - installed along with a freight elevator at the turn of the 20th c. - is the "oldest elevator in the Southeastern United States." And a unique semi-circular elevator installed in 1906 in the City Hall of New Bedford, Massachusetts, is "the oldest working elevator in the United States." An elevator that no longer functions in what is now a sandwich shop in Washington, D.C., is "the world's oldest elevator" and is encased in plexigas and owned by the Smithsonian. A 2004 exhibit at Northwestern University called "The Elevator and the City" focused on the way the elevator contributed to the growth of cities like New York and Chicago by allowing them to expand upward, and how it has impacted popular culture, including as a visual device in films and as the inspiration for Muzak.

I was surprised to learn that Otis' 2 tallest test towers are located in Shubayama, Japan, and my Mom's hometown in Bristol, Connecticut! More on that in Part 2, which will be - as you might expect - a round-up of weird news about elevators.

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