Towards the city skies

Some one hundred and fifty years ago the security lock for elevators was invented

Without it, the world of most cities would be completely different. The buildings would not exceed a few floors and the concentration of people in commercial centers would be more limited. Certainly our horizons would be less polluted, but expansion and urban development would have another face.

The invention of the elevator itself is lost somewhere back in time. It is known that since ancient times load elevators using animal and human traction, and later substituted by steam, have been in use. But there was no security – the cords got loose or broke – and the accidents were frequent. In 1852, the inventor and commercial dealer, the North American Elisha Graves Otis (1811-1861) invented an unprecedented hoist mechanism: a device with an automatic tooth that would hold the elevator platform in place in the case that the cable that was sustaining broke.

His invention was so efficient that Otis received three proposals from manufacturers for the supply of “safety hooks” that he quickly adapted to elevators. During the following year, he himself opened a small factory to provide the safety hooks, but, since the new mechanism and its use were little known, Otis decided to build an elevator and to present it at the American Institute exhibition mounted in the Crystal Palace in New York in 1854. Above a platform elevated ten meters from the ground, he explained how it worked to an audience who was watching the demonstration.

Suddenly the elevator’s support cord was cut – and the platform remained in the same position instead of falling as it would have been expected. The spectators looked at it in wonder while Otis dusted off his top hat and exclaimed: “Extremely safe, gentlemen, extremely safe”. From that moment on he began to sell elevators at US$ 300 each. In 1857, he installed the first passenger elevator in the world in E.V. Haughwout and Co., a porcelain and crystal shop of five floors in new York. The pathway to city skyscrapers had been opened.