Going up?


September 20, 1853
Otis Opened Elevator Factory

Skyscrapers could not have been built without Elisha Graves Otis’s invention. Any guesses as to what that was? Otis opened a small factory on the banks of the Hudson River in Yonkers, New York, on September 20, 1853, to make elevators, fully equipped with his newly invented automatic safety device. Having received an order for two freight elevators with the new device, Otis abandoned his plans to join the California Gold Rush. But after six months, he hadn’t received a second order. What do you think he did?

Otis staged a public demonstration. He climbed on top of his elevator in New York’s Crystal Palace exhibition, and while hoisted to the ceiling, ordered the rope cut. Seeing how his safety brake kept him from falling, people realized the importance of his invention. Though in 1856, Otis’s sales totaled just 27 elevators, his performance launched the passenger elevator industry. The world’s first safety elevator for passengers, installed in 1857 in a New York store, rose at a speed of 40 feet per minute. How does that compare to today’s elevators?

Today the elevators in Chicago’s 1,127-foot John Hancock Center soar upward at 1,800 feet per minute! With the introduction of steel frame construction, the skyscraper became possible. The 10-story Home Insurance Building in Chicago, built in 1885, was considered the world’s first tall building, requiring four elevators. The 1913 Woolworth Building (792 feet) boasted 26 elevators; the 1931 Empire State Building (1,250 feet) required 58. With new and taller buildings, business at the Otis Elevator Company, later run by Otis’s sons, rose steadily.