Elevators – History and Trivia

Hi all, Winnie Griggs here. In December, my book Once Upon A Texas Christmas will release. The story features a hero and heroine who have been asked to team up (much to the hero’s chagrin) to renovate an old hotel building. One of the things I wanted them to include as part of the renovation was an elevator. And this, of course, led me down a rabbit hole of research into what elevators were like during this period of time. So today I thought I’d share a little bit of what I learned.

First some history:

  • While the concept of lifting heavy objects is older than the pyramids themselves, it was in 236 BC that Archimedes, a Greek mathematician, invented the first elevator that was based on ropes, wrenches and weights. His concepts became the foundation for all elevators going forward.
  • One of my favorite and unexpected bits of elevator trivia – In 1203 the Abby of Mont St Michel installed a treadmill powered hoisting elevator. Most sources say prisoners were employed to man the treadmill. But at least one source noted that monkeys were employed as well. Whether true or not, isn’t it fun to imagine what that would have looked like?
  • It was in 1743 that one of the first elevators designed specifically for human passengers, a counterweight lift, was installed in King Louis XV’s villa at Versailles, France.
  • In 1852, while working in a New York bedstead factory, Elisha Otis saw a problem he needed to fix. Workers there were reluctant to use the hoists that were required to lift the heavy equipment to the upper floors. They were afraid the cable would break and crash to the ground causing serious injury or worse. Elisha rose to the challenge and he designed and created the first elevator safety braking device. It was this invention that revolutionized elevator design and paved the way for commercial passenger elevators.

    Elisha Otis
  • In 1854 Elisha Otis introduced another safety device, an elevator cabin that featured a self-locking door gear, designed to protect occupants from falling out of the elevator. 32 years later inventor Alexander Miles patented an automatic door system for the elevator.
  • Elisha Otis died from diphtheria in 1861, he was only 49. But his two sons took over the company, turning it into an international giant. Over the next several years they installed elevators in such prestigious buildings as the Eiffel Tower, the Washington Monument and the 60 story Woolworth Building which was the world’s tallest building at the time. The Otis Elevator Company is still the world’s largest vertical transportation manufacturer today (it includes escalators as well as elevators).

Trivia and fun facts:

  • There are currently over 700,000 elevators in the US. But as of 2008, Italy holds the record for the country with the most elevators installed – approximately 850,000.
  • Statistically, elevators are the safest way to travel. And they are 20 times safer than escalators.
  • The reason most elevators have mirrors is to make them seem larger in order to help people who suffer from claustrophobia.
  • Music was first introduced in elevators in the 1920s. It was hoped that this would calm folks who might be anxious about riding in elevators for the first time.
  • Betty Oliver was an elevator operator in the Empire State Building who was on duty on July 28, 1945 when a plane crashed into the building. She was injured and when rescuers subsequently tried to lower her the elevator cable broke, plummeting her 75 stories down. Miraculously she survived the fall. She still holds the record for being the longest elevator fall survivor.
  • Over the course of three days, elevators carry the equivalent of the world’s total population.

So there’s a quick overview of some of the info I gathered in my research.  What do you think? Did any of the info surprise you? Do you have any fun stories of your own to share related to elevators?

Leave a comment to be entered into a drawing for an advanced copy of my December release, Once Upon A Texas Christmas.


Partners for the Holidays 

Abigail Fulton is determined to find independence in Turnabout, Texas—and becoming manager of the local hotel could be the solution. But first, she must work with Seth Reynolds to renovate the property by Christmas—and convince him she’s perfect for the job. If only he hadn’t already promised the position to someone else…

Ever since his troubled childhood, Seth yearns to prove himself. And this hotel is his best chance. But what does someone like Abigail know about decor and furnishings? Yet the closer the holiday deadline gets, the more he appreciates her abilities and her kindness. His business ambitions require denying Abigail’s dearest wish, but can they put old dreams aside for a greater gift—love and family?

Preorder Link


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Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination.
Three of Winnie’s books have been nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, and one of those nominations resulted in a win.
Winnie loves to hear from readers. You can connect with her on facebook at www.facebook.com/WinnieGriggs.Author or email her at winnie@winniegriggs.com.

52 thoughts on “Elevators – History and Trivia”

  1. I can always count on every post at Petticoats & Pistols to tell me something I didn’t know! When my mother was young, she was an elevator operator. Fortunately, the cable never broke! I am looking forward to the holiday season and new Christmas stories. Thanks for the chance to win.

  2. First of all, I can’t believe the concept of an elevator dates way back to 236BC! Archimedes was one smart mathematician. Then the story of Betty Oliver, first being injured when a plane crashed into the building and then to survive a fall of 75 ft down! And the last bit of research I found interesting was the last one, that “over the course of three days, elevators carry the equivalent of the world’s total population”. WOW, that’s hard to wrap my mind around!

    Winnie, you’ve given me more information about elevators then I think I ever would have learned on my own. Isn’t research fun? Also, a true funny story. When I was a kid, we lived in an apartment building on one of the upper floors. So we had to ride the elevator up and I called it an alligator…lol! My mom always got a kick out of this 🙂

    Thank you for the fun post and giveaway chance! Blessings!

  3. Hello Winnie. This was a very informative lesson. Very interesting. Hard to believe they were invented 236 years before Christ. WOW!! I have many times said to myself when in an Elevator, I hope the electricity doesn’t go off. I have a nephew who has an Elevator in his home. I call it a mansion. TV in every room and even a Theater. Must be something to have that much money. And it was paid for when finished. Not that I real think of being rich, but would be nice to be able to get some things really needed. Also to fix things when needed. Would love to be your winner. Thanks for a chance. GOD bless you. Maxie

    • Thank you Winnie for such an informative post. I new a little about Otis. I had no idea the very first elevator goes back to 236BC. Amazing. Loving Christmas stories I look forward to reading
      Once Upon A Texas Christmas.
      Carol Luciano

  4. This was a great post. I knew about Elisha Otis but that was about it. I especially liked the fun facts trivia. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Hi, Winnie. Thank you for the great post on elevators! I knew some of the information but not all. I loved the trivia portion…it’s hard to believe that in three days time elevators care the equivalent of the world’s population. Wow!

    I would love to win a copy of your new book. Thank you for the chance.

    Cindy W.
    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

    • Hi Cindy.I found that little tidbit amazing as well. But then I think back to my days of working in an office building and I remember riding elevators between floors upwards of a dozen times a day.

  6. What great info. Thanks for sharing. I have seen Otis elevator. It is a huge company. Falling has never been my fear with them.

  7. The name Otis was familiar to me from actually being on elevators but I had no idea about all of the history. And it’s hard to imagine that elevators are safer than escalators! Who knew?! I love research too, like this post in learning the origins of various inventions, events and so on. Thank you so much, Winnie.

  8. Great post I always learn a little something with these post here. Your book sounds really good and I can’t wait to read it.

  9. I laughed, & continue to laugh, much too hard @ the visual of monkies running the treadmill! Why isn’t this practice still in place?! It would be much more entertaining in a glass elevator too 🙂

  10. Great post, Winnie! I always love your posts and I always learn from them. I didn’t know when elevator music came into play but I enjoy it while I am in an elevator.

  11. Your posts are always so much fun and so informative. The last bit of trivia/fun fact amazes me — “Over the course of three days, elevators carry the equivalent of the world’s total population.” That’s a wonderful cover, Winnie. I’m pre-ordering now 🙂

  12. Congratulations on the new release, Winnie! I love Christmas-themed books and this looks perfect for giving me the warmth of family I crave during the holidays.

    How interesting about the elevators. I had no idea they went so far back. Had to laugh at the tidbit about monkeys. That would’ve been a disaster as spastic as they often are. LOL!

  13. Hi Winnie, congratulations on your new book and thank you for a fascinating look at elevators.

    I’m not fond of elevators and take the stairs whenever possible. I’ve gotten stuck in elevators so many times, my family refuses to travel in one with me. Some say it’s my RH negative blood, which supposedly messes with electrical stuff. I guess that’s as good an explanation as any.

    I do have an amusing tale. One day I was at an department store with my then two-year-old daughter. The elevator was jammed-packed so rather than squeeze inside, I decided to wait for the next one. Moments later, the elevator returned, empty. My daughter, apparently thinking that the elevator made people disappeared, screamed bloody-murder and refused to step inside.

    • Hi Margaret – thanks for the congrats. I’d never heard that about RH neg blood – interesting because I am negative as well. And how funny about your daughter – though I imagine it wasn’t funny at the time!

  14. I like the monkeys as well. The article states they were employed, which I know just means they used them. I like to think they had a 401k and some kind of profit sharing plan.

  15. Elevators are a mixed blessing. I have taken the high speed elevator to the top of the Empire State Building. I was not a comfortable ride. That was many years ago and I have gotten better. I have been stuck in an elevator twice, both in the small elevator at the small library where I worked. The first time, I was with two women, one in a wheelchair. As it turned out, together we were too heavy for the elevator to bring us up from the basement. The second time, I was alone and the elevator froze between floors. The emergency contact phone didn’t work. I pounded on the door and finally got someone’s attention. It took phone calls to the elevator company and over an hour to get it functioning again to finish my trip.

  16. Winnie!!! Who would have thought there’s so much to know about elevators???? It’s so good to see you, my friend, and I can’t wait to read this story. I love your historical fiction and couple that with Christmas… oh be still my heart!!!!

  17. In my first library job there was a storage elevator between the first and second floor. It was meant to hold strong weights but the sides were open and you could hear it “groaning” under extra heavy loads. The door to the second floor office was accidentally locked with the key INSIDE of the office so the easiest solution was to ride down the elevator and enter the office from the inside since that was where the elevator opening was on that floor. Well, I was the only person there who was willing to take the ride down. I admit that I sat down on the way down and NO, there wasn’t excessive groaning because of the weight but it was an interesting ride!
    Thanks for sharing elevator history and Blessings!

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