• picture
  • picture
  • picture
  • picture
Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Almanac/Going Up!

Air Date: Week of

This week, we have facts about Elisha Graves Otis' safety elevator. The inventor resorted to public demonstrations involving sliced hoisting cables to drum up business for his safety innovation back in 1854.


CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. And – a little elevator music please.

[MUSIC: Ferrante & Teicher “On a Clear Day” Concert in the Clouds]

One hundred forty-nine years ago this week, Elisha Graves Otis hung out his shingle for the world's first safety hoist. Now, primitive elevators had been around for centuries. The earliest were lifted by muscle or waterwheel power. And then, steam hit the scene in the mid-1800s. But until Mr. Otis came along, these contraptions were risky. If the cable snapped, the elevator would plummet to the ground.

So, Mr. Otis invented a clamping mechanism of iron teeth to grab the elevator's guide rails if the hoisting rope snapped. But despite the safety modification, the elevator business remained slow. So Mr. Otis employed a bit of showmanship. At the 1854 World's Fair, he installed an open safety hoist inside the Crystal Palace in New York City, and climbed in.

As a crowd watched from four stories below, he reached up and sliced through the hoist rope with a saber. The audience gasped. But the safety ratchet bars automatically clamped and held. "All safe, gentlemen, all safe," he reportedly called down to the amazed crowd. After this demonstration, sales took off.

In 1857, a five-floor department store in New York City asked Mr. Otis to install the first passenger elevator. Before long, the Otis Elevator Company was doing a brisk business, heralding the age of the skyscraper and changing the urban landscape – and the music business – forever. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.




Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Telephone: 617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Energy Foundation: Serving the public interest by helping to build a strong, clean energy economy.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth