For thousands of years, people have recognized the need to take things to the next level. Elevators have a lengthy history, starting with a platform tied to a rope pulled by a human and progressing to the smooth, electric trips in boxes we currently enjoy.

Inventive and evolutionary thinking

Egypt’s pyramids may have been built using vertical lifts. According to Elevator History, the first recorded use was in the third century B.C. According to Landmark Elevator, Archimedes, a Greek mathematician, physicist, and astronomer, is credited with inventing the first known elevator. Ropes and pulleys were used to operate his invention. According to Otis World Wide, the ropes were coiled around a winding drum using a capstan and levers. These early lifts, or hoists, were primarily used to move big objects such as water or building materials, and were driven by people, animals, or water.

According to Otis, crude lift part suppliers systems were used to lift humans as early as the first century A.D. Gladiators and wild animals were raised from the lower levels to the arena level using lifts in the Roman Coliseum. Hoists were the only method to get to the monastery in St. Barlaam, Greece, which was perched on a pinnacle about 200 feet (60 meters) above the earth during medieval times.

The “flying chair,” one of the first elevators developed particularly for passenger usage, belonged to King Louis XV. According to This is Versailles, it was installed at the Palace of Versailles by Blaise-Henri Arnoult in 1743. Louis required a private elevator so that his mistress could pay him a secret visit. The elevator was operated by the passenger pulling a cord that was connected to a pulley system with counterweights.

According to Landmark Elevators, the next major advancement in elevator technology was James Watt’s discovery of the steam engine in 1765. As construction expanded throughout the Industrial Revolution, the new technology allowed elevators to transfer larger, heavier items — such as coal, lumber, and steel — to higher levels of taller structures.

In 1852, Elisha Graves Otis invented the first elevator safety system, which kept the elevator from falling to the earth if the wires snapped. The saw-toothed ratchet engaged to hold the elevator in place when a spring lost its tension due to the lifting wires breaking, according to Funding Universe Company Histories. According to Columbia Elevator, the first passenger elevator featuring Otis’ safety feature was operating in a New York City department store by 1857.

According to Siemens, Werner von Siemens created the first electric elevator in 1880. The elevator was raised using a gear system based on the dynamo-electric concept and driven by a motor placed beneath the platform. The elevator was meant to debut at the Mannheim Pfalzgau Trade & Agricultural Exhibition in Germany, however it was two months later. Thousands of passengers were able to ride the elevator, making it a big success.

There have been numerous turning points in elevator development:

  • The Otis business produced a speedier, more cost-effective hydraulic elevator in 1878.
  • Alexander Miles, an American inventor, developed a device for closing the elevator shaft doors automatically in 1887.
  • In 1944, an American inventor named Joseph Giovanni invented a safety bumper that protected the elevator doors from shutting on a passenger or other object.
  • In 1924, Otis Elevators, now owned by Elisha Otis’ sons, constructed the first automatic control system for adjusting elevator speeds. According to Otis World Wide, the system automatically managed acceleration, speed between levels, and deceleration as the elevator came to a halt.
  • According to Funding Universe Company Histories, Otis Elevators put an elevator in the freshly built Empire State Building that could go 1,200 feet per minute (366 meters per minute).
  • There are now 73 elevators in the Empire State Building.
  • According to Otis World Wide, Otis Elevators integrated microprocessors into their elevator control systems, which they termed Elevonic 101, in 1979, making elevators fully automated.


Elevators must be able to keep up with the rising number of floors and the necessity to get passengers to their selected floors rapidly as buildings rise. According to CNN, one Chinese skyscraper holds three elevator records: the fastest, the tallest, and the fastest double-deck elevator. At 2,074 feet (632 meters), Shanghai Tower is the world’s second-tallest structure, and its 121-floor elevator, developed by Mitsubishi Electric Corporation in Japan, travels at 67 feet per second (20.5 meters per second).

According to CNN, in the never-ending competition to construct the biggest and best, the Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia, set to be completed in 2019, will break the record for the world’s tallest building as well as the world’s tallest and possibly fastest elevator. Standing at a full kilometer in height, a variety of options have to be considered in order to meet the elevator’s height and speed criteria. According to Kone, a Finnish business has designed and manufactured elevators with carbon-fiber ropes strong enough to allow elevators to travel 2,165 feet (660 meters).

Elevator designers and inventors are continually improving and implementing new safety features like the height and speed of elevators rise.

A patent filed by a group of Otis Elevator Company inventors in 2009 for over-acceleration and over-speed protection is one example. When the elevator starts to speed up, this technology senses it and instantly activates a mechanical brake connected to an electromagnetic trigger. When the emergency stop is engaged, another invention filed in 2011 by Juan Carlos Abad, a Swiss inventor, provides a safety circuit that is used to slow an elevator in a regulated manner.

From a height of 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers), this artist’s concept of a space elevator system looks down on Earth. (Image courtesy of NASA)


Elevators are being developed and tested with new technologies in order to make them taller, faster, and safer.

Elevators are even attempting to replace ropes with magnets. According to Business Insider, the German business ThyssenKrupp is working on a magnetic levitation elevator called MULTI. By having numerous cars in each shaft, the elevator will not only be able to substantially reduce its footprint, but it will also be able to greatly improve the efficiency of people moving. And, like the elevator in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” it can travel both horizontally and vertically, opening up a world of new possibilities.

What is the maximum height at which an elevator can be built? In his work “Fountains of Paradise,” science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke popularized the idea that an elevator may travel all the way into space. A five-hour elevator ride from Earth’s surface to a space colony gives “one of the most spectacular views you will ever see” of the planet Earth shrinking as passengers traveled up, according to his fiction.

According to NASA, a space elevator may be achievable in the not-too-distant future. The elevator would be connected to a geostationary satellite 22,236 miles (35786 kilometers) above the Earth by a base tower around 31 miles (50 kilometers) tall. Electromagnetic elevator cars would be able to travel at speeds of up to tens of thousands of kilometers per hour on four to six tracks.

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