Inventor of the Week Archive
for a different Invention or Inventor
Elisha Otis (1811-1861)
If you've ever been atop the Empire State Building, the Sears Tower or any of the
world's great skyscrapers, you may have been in awe at the technological prowess
that went into making our finest cityscapes.
Many people marvel at architects' abilities to design buildings that stretch
toward the sky, but few realize that without one man's invention, generations
would never have dreamed of building these great landmarks.
Elisha Otis was born in Halifax, Vermont. As an adult, he was inspired to design
what was then called the "safety elevator" when he was asked to move equipment into
the warehouse of his employer, a New York bed factory. Most elevators of the
time were extremely dangerous. Otis' employer needed an elevator that could
carry people and equipment safely to the upper floors of its new building.
At the Crystal Palace Exposition in New York in 1853, Otis demonstrated his
solution. A large crowd watched breathlessly from the floor far below as Otis
ascended in his new elevator. Stopping at a dizzying height, Otis told his
assistant to cut the elevator's cord!
The crowd let out a gasp of relief when the elevator platform did not come
crashing to the floor. The key to Otis' invention was a toothed guiderail located on each side of
the elevator shaft that caught the elevator car. If the cable failed, the teeth would engage,
locking the car in place.
So the next time you ride an elevator, take a look around -- there's a good chance you'll
spot the "Otis" name.