While dumbwaiters, which are a special type of lifting aid, have been used in construction for thousands of years, dating back the times of the early Egyptians, these devices were very rarely used to transport people.
This was in large part due to the dangers associated with early dumbwaiters, which were often only suspended by a rope, which was prone to breaking. As a result, most people were very wary of elevators, so they were seldom used. In big cities, buildings were usually at most five stories high, because this was about as high as most people could climb on the stairs without becoming tired.
Even in early times, the problem with building a passenger elevator was not the lifting mechanism itself, because there were plenty of hoists developed capable of lifting a large amount of weigh. With pascals discoveries 1600′s, there were also several hydraulic lifting systems available, as well as steam powered engines, so lifting was not the problem. Instead, safety was the major barrier preventing the acceptance of the passenger elevator.
The issue of safety was finally addressed by Elisha Graves Otis, who is today known as the father of the passenger elevator. Otis, who was an inventor at heart, was working for a manufacturing company and overseeing the construction of one of their new plants.
After several accidents with their dumbwaiter, which was used to move construction supplies, Otis developed a safety system, which engaged if the dumbwaiter rope broke. The safety system consisted of a spring loaded spike system, which would stick into the sides of the dumbwaiter shaft, stopping the dumbwaiter car, if there was a rope failure.
Once the construction of the new manufacturing plant was complete, Otis was set to move on to California in hopes of finding gold, but before he could leave, he was approached by several builders who were interested in his dumbwaiter brake system. So, instead of leaving New York, Otis stayed and began manufacturing lifts with his built in brake system.
By 1854, Otis had developed his own passenger elevator, which took advantage of the braking system. At the Crystal Palace, he raised the elevator up in the elevator and cut the rope, showcasing the safety of his elevator. Otis would quickly become inundated with request for his elevator, with the first passenger elevator installed in 1857. With this, the Otis Elevator Company was born, which today is one of the most recognized names in the elevator industry.
With the adoption of the passenger elevator, buildings could be built much larger and skyscrapers would soon emerge, with the sky quite literally being the limit. Many elevators would make use of steam power and also hydraulic power.
In 1889, the first electric passenger elevator was installed, which took advantage of Thomas Edison’s central electric system that was installed in New York. By 1894, there were attendentless passenger elevators, which could be operated by the elevator users and less than 100 years after the first Otis elevator, a dispatching system capable of operating a bank of two elevators at once was developed.
Today, the passenger elevator is more popular than ever. It can be found in most large buildings, greatly improving accessibility for the mobility challenged. The passenger elevator is also becoming increasingly popular in residential settings, with several single or double user residential elevator kits available.