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The Development and Impact of the First Passenger Elevator

Updated on May 3, 2009

While dumbwaiters have been used in construction and homes for thousands of years, the passenger elevator is a relatively new device that is less than 200 years old.

One of the biggest obstacles that the development to the passenger elevator faced was the safety of the device. So, so up until the middle of the 1800's, few buildings were over five stories high, which was the accepted number of stairs that most people could walk up without becoming overly tired.

This would change, of course, with the development of the safety elevator and skyscrapers would quickly become popular. Within only 80 years of the development of the first passenger elevator, the Empire State Building would be built, which was over 100 stories tall. Today, there are a number of buildings that are much taller.

The Creation of the First Safe Passenger Elevator

Elisha Otis, who was an America Inventor, is credited with the development of the passenger elevator. While working construction, Otis invented a safety system that could prevent dumbwaiters from falling if the rope broke. Shortly after this, he would develop the first steam powered safety elevator capable of lifting humans. Hydraulic and later electric elevators would soon be invented, with the former still found in smaller buildings. However today, hydraulic and steam elevators are not as common.

To be able to support such a great weight, elevators typically use a counterweight system and a number of pulleys. The pulleys help reduce the amount of effort required to lift the elevator, and the use of a counterweight means that the lifting system must only be capable of lifting the weight difference of the counterweight and elevator car.

A counterweight is basically just a weight that is attached to a piece of equipment that moves, balancing the weight of the object. Counterweights are used in a number of devices and pieces of equipment, both large and small, aside from only elevators. For example, counterweights can be found inside of electric pencil sharpeners, as well as in drawbridges.

Impact of the Elevator on Modern Construction

The invention of the passenger revolutionized the building industry and skyscrapers in big cities, like Chicago and New York, quickly popped up. Builders were no longer limited to how many flights of stairs an individual could walk up, so they were able to make much better use of the space. Instead, they were limited to the lifting capacity of the elevator, which is one reason Hydraulic lifts are less common.

In modern times, elevators remain incredibly popular. They are found in almost all office buildings, with many buildings having a great number of elevator banks, which because possible in the middle of the twentieth century. For instance, many hospitals will have eight large elevators all in one area.

Not only are elevators very popular in office buildings, but more and more homeowners are choosing to install a residential elevator. There are a number of elevator kits available, which can be retrofitted into a home and provide a relatively inexpensive one or two person elevator. Among those who are mobility challenged and can not safely use the stairs, an elevator can make the home instantly much more accessible.

Elevators will continue to remain an indispensable part of both residential and commercial settings, for some time.


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