Tuesday March 23, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The Elevator

On this Day:

In 1857, Elisha Otis installed his 1st elevator at 488 Broadway in New York City.  But it was certainly not the first elevator. Not by a long shot.

The earliest known reference to an elevator is in the works of the Roman architect Vitruvius, who reported that Archimedes (c. 287 BC – c. 212 BC) built his first elevator probably in 236 BC. Sources from later periods mention elevators as cabs on a hemp rope, powered by people or animals.

The Roman Colosseum, completed in AD 80, had roughly 25 lifts that were used for raising animals up to the floor. Each lift could carry about 600 pounds (roughly the weight of two lions) 23 feet up when powered by up to eight men.

In 1000, the Book of Secrets by Ibn Khalaf al-Muradi in Islamic Spain described the use of an elevator-like lifting device to raise a large battering ram to destroy a fortress.

In the 17th century, prototypes of elevators were installed in the palace buildings of England and France. Louis XV of France had a so-called ‘flying chair’ built for one of his mistresses at the Chateau de Versailles in 1743.

Ancient and medieval elevators used drive systems based on hoists and windlasses. The invention of a system based on the screw drive was perhaps the most important step in elevator technology since ancient times, leading to the creation of modern passenger elevators. The first screw-drive elevator was built by Ivan Kulibin and installed in the Winter Palace in 1793, although there may have been an earlier design by Leonardo da Vinci. Several years later another of Kulibin’s elevators was installed in the Arkhangelskoye near Moscow.

In 1852, Elisha Otis introduced the safety elevator, which prevented the fall of the cab if the cable broke. He demonstrated it at the New York exposition in the Crystal Palace in a dramatic, death-defying presentation in 1854, and the first such passenger elevator was installed at 488 Broadway in New York City on 23 March 1857.

In answer to that burning question: “Which came first, the elevator or the elevator shaft?”, the answer is clear. The first elevator shaft preceded the first elevator by four years. Construction for Peter Cooper’s Cooper Union Foundation building in New York began in 1853. An elevator shaft was included in the design because Cooper was confident that a safe passenger elevator would soon be invented. The shaft was cylindrical because Cooper thought it was the most efficient design. Otis later designed a special elevator for the building.

Peter Ellis, an English architect, installed the first elevators that could be described as paternoster elevators in Oriel Chambers in Liverpool in 1868.

The Equitable Life Building, completed in 1870 in New York City, is thought to be the first office building with passenger elevators.

In 1874, J. W. Meaker patented a method permitting elevator doors to open and close safely.

The first electric elevator was built by Werner von Siemens in 1880 in Germany. Inventor Anton Freissler further developed von Siemens’ ideas and created a successful elevator enterprise in Austria-Hungary. The safety and speed of electric elevators were significantly enhanced by Frank Sprague, who added floor control, automatic operation, acceleration control, and further safety devices. His elevator ran faster and with larger loads than hydraulic or steam elevators. 584 of Sprague’s elevators were installed before he sold his company to the Otis Elevator Company in 1895. Sprague also developed the idea and technology for multiple elevators in a single shaft.

In 1882, when hydraulic power was a well established technology, a company later named the London Hydraulic Power Company was formed by Edward B. Ellington and others. It constructed a network of high-pressure mains on both sides of the Thames which ultimately extended 184 miles and powered some 8,000 machines, predominantly elevators and cranes.

Schuyler Wheeler patented his electric elevator design in 1883.

In 1887, American Inventor Alexander Miles of Duluth, Minnesota patented an elevator with automatic doors that closed off the elevator shaft when the car was not being entered or exited.

The first elevator in India was installed at the Raj Bhavan in Calcutta (now Kolkata) by Otis in 1892.

By 1900, completely automated elevators were available, but passengers were reluctant to use them. Their adoption was aided by a 1945 elevator operator strike in New York City, and the addition of an emergency stop button, emergency telephone, and a soothing explanatory automated voice.

An inverter-controlled gearless drive system is applied in high-speed elevators worldwide. The Toshiba company continued research on thyristors for use in inverter control and dramatically enhanced their switching capacity, resulting in the development of insulated gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs) at the end of the 1980s. The IGBT realized increased switching frequency and reduced magnetic noise in the motor, eliminating the need for a filter circuit and allowing a more compact system. The IGBT also allowed the development of a small, highly integrated, highly sophisticated all-digital control device, consisting of a high-speed processor, specially customized gate arrays, and a circuit capable of controlling large currents of several kHz.

In 2000, the first vacuum elevator was offered commercially in Argentina. (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

Having sex on an elevator is just wrong on so many levels…

Second, a Song:

When it comes to elevator music, most of us cringe at the thought of mindless remakes of popular tunes. However, Rodolfo Mancuso has taken elevator music, ah, to a whole new level.

Rodolfo Mancuso (born February 28, 1992) is a Brazilian-Italian-American actor, Internet personality and musician most notable for his comedic videos on YouTube and previously on Vine. Many of Mancuso’s videos consist mostly of musical comedy sketches. He has over 7.2 million YouTube subscribers and 9.2 million followers on Instagram. 

Mancuso was raised in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, the son of an Italian-American father and a Brazilian mother. He attended Glen Ridge High School and Rutgers University Newark. He lived in Rio de Janeiro for a while and speaks Portuguese fluently. He started playing the piano at the age of five. He also has a sister by the name of Marianna Mancuso. Marianna is said to have played a vital role in Rudy’s comedy skills.

Here is Rodolfo Mancuso performing his “Best Elevator Music (Part 2)”.  I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“If you’re lucky enough to do well, it’s your responsibility to send the elevator back down.” – Kevin Spacey

In response to the last two Smiles (The Napoleonic Code and The Marathon), Professor John Zeleznikow of Melbourne, Australia writes:

“Dear David

Thanks for your last two notes.

They touch my hobby (I have run 199 full marathons) and my research (AI and Law).

I do hope that we can soon travel and I can see you in Vancouver

Be well


WOW John….humbling! That is on average, 5 marathons a year for 40 years! I know how beat up I was after a marathon.  Congratulations!!  Love to catch up in Vancouver!

Have a great day!

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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