History of Lifts
First lift-like devices were used already in the middle ages and are tracked back to the 3rd century BC. We can assume that lifts’ history is even greater. Lift-like devices could be used mainly for great monumental buildings all around the world. These devices were controlled by animal strength, manpower or a water-powered mechanism. Lifts as we know today were invented in the 18th century and used steam and steam engine. Later, a piston was inserted into an underground cylinder and the liquid, mostly water, was injected into the cylinder. The piston was lifted by the water pressure and lowered when the water was drained. The tubes to control the water flow could be controlled using ropes.
Later, the system developed to use lever control. The father of today’s lifts comes from Great Britain in 19th century, using a rope, a pulley and weights lifted load alongside a shaft wall. A high-performance lift made its debut in a half of the 19th century in New York City, USA. In 1853, Elisha G. Otis introduced the first safe lift in a city building “New York Crystal Palace”. The lift travelled two floors and in case of a rope failure, it had a safety brake of the lift cabin. This was very important moment in lifts’ development.
In 1857, the first passenger lift was installed in a department store at 488 Broadway in New York City. Ten years later, sons of E. Otis founded their first lift company – Yonkers – in New York and made thousands of lifts. With this production, new elements came into production (rotatable thread, hydraulic model). Today, hydraulic lifts still have their place in the world’s lift production. Later in 18th century when electricity was invented, Werner von Siemens build the first electric lift. The engine was below the lift cabin and the lift travelled vertically alongside a shaft wall. In 1887, an electric lift using a drum engine and winding cables was developed in Baltimore. The drum principle couldn’t be used for too high lifts so another technology must have been used for high-rise buildings and skyscrapers.
The engine technology and control methods developed fast. In 1889, almost all high-rise administrative buildings had their electric lift.
In 1903, the electric lift replaced gears, allowed transportation for up to 100 floors and changed cities forever. Multispeed engines replaced the original single speed engines. Electromagnet technology replaced manual switching and braking. Lifts were equipped with control buttons and different indication systems. Safety improvements were also very common including the important development of Chartes Otis, son of the original, who took part in making lift safety better.
Even with an excessive speed the lift didn’t fail and the load bearing cables were untouched.
Too complex floor schemes and the duplicating blocks of the old systems are gone. Buttons and switches were replaced with keyboards. Nowadays, almost all new lifts are automatically controlled and equipped with microprocessors. The age of computers brought a new way to control huge amount of data with precise planning. Maximum effectivity and extreme safety are the new face of lifts. Lifts are a common and natural part of buildings and they enable passenger transport with never ending desire to transport people higher and faster. All around the world, every day, lifts transport more people than any other mean of transport.
Author of the article and the painting: Pavel Vejs