The history of the elevator

The Ups and Downs of Elevator History 

January 10, 2024

Has it ever occurred to you why are elevators the way they are? Do you ever wonder whose idea it was to raise and lift goods and people sometimes great distances into the air? Well elevators, or elevator-like machines and devices have been in operation since the 3rd century BC. Yes, it’s true. Elevators have been around since antiquity. Here’s a short history of elevators as they’ve evolved over time. 

older elevator

The Pre-Industrial Period of Elevator History

In 236 BC Archimedes of Syracuse built what is thought to be the first elevator. It was a relatively simple machine that was operated by either men or animals. It featured a cab that was lifted and lowered by hemp rope. The Roman Colosseum had around 25 elevators in it, and they were used to raise men, materials and animals to each floor of the building. It’s estimated that each could carry around 600 pounds to an elevation of about 23 feet high when operated by up to eight men. 

In the year 1000 the Andalusian engineer Ibn Khalaf al-Muradi spoke of a device similar to an elevator. In his Book of Secrets he described a machine that lifted a large battering ram that would destroy a fortress. By the 17th prototypes of elevator-like machines were featured in palace buildings in France and England. In 1743 Louis XV of France had what he dubbed a “flying chair” installed in his Château de Versailles for one his mistresses. 

Many elevators during the pre-industrial period utilized drive systems based on hoists and windlasses. It wasn’t until elevators began using a system inspired by the screw drive that modern innovation in elevator technology really began to take off. 

The Industrial Period of Elevator History

Elevators in the mid-18th century were primarily only used for raising and lowering goods, for the most part they were only used in mines and factories. In 1823 Burton and Homer built something called the “ascending room” which was marketed as a tourist attraction of sorts. Patrons would pay a small fee and they would be lifted up high and get a beautiful panoramic view of central London. 

In the decades after the Industrial Revolution, elevator technology advanced at a fairly consistent pace. In 1871 the hydraulic elevator was introduced to the world. Thirteen years later, in 1884, inventor D. Humphreys of Norfolk, Virginia patented his design for the electric elevator. A mere three years after that the patent for an elevator with automatic doors was obtained by Delouth, Minnesota’s Alexander Miles. Things only went up from there.

Modernization and Elevator Technology Today 

Nowadays we barely think about the technology going on inside an elevator. Everything from the buttons to the screens displaying the floor to the doors opening and closing function, everything that makes an elevator work has changed. One of the major changes in elevator operation has more to do with a who than a what. Up until the 1950s elevators required an attendant whose job it was to actually make sure the car was moving up and down. 

Today, elevators use complex systems to maximize efficiency, save energy and more. In fact, if your elevator is more than twenty years old, you should look into modernizing it. This means upgrading it with the latest technology and ensuring that everything is up to building code regulations. If you want the best modern elevator and elevator repair service, contact us today.