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Dumbwaiters and their Uses

Updated on April 19, 2009

The stairs can be a very dangerous place in a home and falls on the stairs is the leading cause of accidental death among the elderly. Falls occur on the stairs everyday and are sometimes caused by attempting to carry items up and down the stairs. This is one reason that dumbwaiters, which make moving objects between floors much easier, can actually help increase staircase safety.

What is a Dumbwaiter?

The dumbwaiter is actually a very old type of lifting aid, whose usage can be traced back thousands of years. Often early dumbwaiters were nothing more than a platform with a rope attached to it, which was used to hoist items to a higher elevation. However, even in early times there were more advanced dumbwaiters available that made use of alternative lifting systems, such as hydraulic and animal power.

The electric dumbwaiter would not be developed until the nineteenth century and quickly became popular in boats, manufacturing plants, and large buildings. The manual dumbwaiter, however, would continue to be the most popular type of residential dumbwaiter for many years to come.

Even though manual dumbwaiters were hoisted using human power, they use technology to help make the lifting easier and safer. From almost the time the first manual dumbwaiter was used, pulley systems were used to reduce the amount of effort that was required to lift the device. Often geared handles were also used, which were easier to turn. Beginning in the nineteenth century, a safer type of dumbwaiter was developed that included safety stops, so you could let go of the dumbwaiter rope, without the dumbwaiter falling. This meant that if the rope slipped or one became tired while raising the dumbwaiter car, there was no worry that the dumbwaiter might fall.

Elisha Otis is thought of as the father of the dumbwaiter
Elisha Otis is thought of as the father of the dumbwaiter

The Development of a Safer Dumbwaiter

It was during the nineteenth century that Elisha Otis, the father of the elevator, would develop a safety system that prevented the dumbwaiter car from falling in the event of a rope failure. This would later lead him to develop the worlds first safety elevator, which was used to transport humans.

Otis developed the safety dumbwaiter while he was overseeing the construction of a manufacturing plant, which used dumbwaiters to transport goods between floors. If the rope on the dumbwaiter broke, it would fall potentially hurting the workers and ruining the building supplies. So, Otis set out to change this and developed a special braking system

Prior to Otis's development, elevators were seldom used, due to the dangers they presented. Otis's invention allowed the elevator cable to be cut, without the elevator car falling. Today, the Otis elevator remains one of the most popular brands of commercial elevator.

Dumbwaiters Today

Today, the dumbwaiter remains very popular for use in commercial and residential settings. Most home users opt to go with an electric dumbwaiter, which is available custom made or in a dumbwaiter kit. The dumbwaiter kit is simpler to install, especially into preexisting structures, but only comes in a few set sizes. The custom dumbwaiter is sometimes more expensive than a dumbwaiter kit, but is much more versatile. Manual dumbwaiters also remain popular, with some homeowners building their own.

Using a dumbwaiter can make housework much easier and safer, because it is no longer necessary to carry items between floors. These devices are also very important in the manufacturing industry.


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  • brad4l profile image

    brad4l 7 years ago from USA

    Marcia, once you have an idea of what type of dumbwaiter will work for you, such as installing a do-it-yourself dumbwaiter kit or going with a custom built dumbwaiter, you can start looking for vendors in your area. Generally, if you are going for a self installed residential dumbwaiter, you can find several national manufactures that can ship to your area. If, however, you want a custom built dumbwaiter, you may want to check with your local medical supply store and see if they know of any local companies that install dumbwaiters.

  • profile image

    Marcia 7 years ago

    Where do I find a manual dumbwaiter to purchase