A Brief, Interesting History of the Otis Elevator Company

What do the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, the Kremlin, and the Burj Khalifa have in common? 

Elevators from the Otis Elevator Company. The company, which is celebrating its 160th anniversary today, has an interesting history: it was founded in 1853, the year Elisha Otis invented the elevator safety brake. Before Otis' invention, buildings rarely reached seven stories (elevators were considered just too dangerous to implement).

But it was Otis' elevator that would allow for the creation, and proliferation of, the skyscraper - an explosion that would for ever alter the 20th and 21st century skylines. 

Read more about the Otis Elevators influence on skyscraper design (and how Otis performed a death-defying feat to increase the invention's popularity), after the break...

Portrait of Otis Elevator Company founder Elisha Otis, 1860. Image via Otis Elevator Company

The first elevator shaft (built in 1853) actually preceded the first elevator by about four years; architect Peter Cooper, confident that a safe elevator would soon be invented, designed New York's Union Foundation building with a cylindrical shaft (thinking that the most efficient shape). Otis would later design a special elevator just for the building.

In 1854, Otis attempted to shatter the public's conception of the elevator's perilousness by performing a dramatic, death-defying demonstration of his safety break feature, cutting the hoisting platform rope at New York's World Fair in 1854.

It seems the stunt worked - in 1857 the first Otis passenger elevator was installed at 488 Broadway. Soon after, the Otis elevator appeared in the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building.

Elisha Otis' elevator patent drawing, 15 January 1861. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Today, in conjunction with the implementation of the steel frame, the Otis elevator is generally considered the invention that paved the way for the global proliferation of skyscrapers.

While the original invention of the safety break elevator precipitated the design of 20th century skyscrapers, today's modern buildings are demanding the elevator's transformation. For example, the Otis Elevator Company's latest invention, the Gen2 Switch™ elevator, is solar-power capable.

It will be interesting to see if our century holds an invention that could similarly revolutionize architecture - what do you think it could be? Let us know in the comments below. 

Story via Otis Elevator Company

About this author
Cite: Vanessa Quirk. "A Brief, Interesting History of the Otis Elevator Company" 03 Apr 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/354494/a-brief-interesting-history-of-the-otis-elevator-company> ISSN 0719-8884

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