The History of the Lift Elevator
Today, whether we are going to the gym, going to work, or going home – it is likely that we will use a lift. Providing a seamless transition from one floor to another, lifts have revolutionised not only the way we live our lives but also the way that buildings are constructed. For example, if you have just done a huge food shop and you live on the top floor of an apartment complex, you no longer need to worry about trudging up flight after flight of stairs, with a lift, you can easily fly to the top of the building within a matter of seconds. With the introduction of lifts, buildings were able to be built higher and higher – creating stunning skyscrapers that peppered the cityscapes of the most famous cities, from London to New York, Dubai and Shanghai.
What’s more, lifts have also been revolutionary in the development of mobility aids for those who struggle with daily movement. This has meant that workplaces, schools and buildings can be designed with inclusivity in mind.
However, when did these revolutions first start? Interestingly, your mind may initially jump to the industrial revolution, but actually, lifts were around hundreds of years before that. Read on to find out more about the fascinating history of lifts.
Ancient Civilisations and Medieval Times
Of course, if we assumed that lifts were only invented during the construction of high rise buildings, then buildings during former eras would have been therefore restricted to one floor. However, this was certainly not the case. Humans were always looking to lift things and transport objects from one place to another with ease.
The earliest form of elevators was recorded by the Roman architect Vitruvius, where it was told that Archimedes built the first lift in 236 BCE. Though, in design, this was largely different to the stainless steel lifts we see today. For instance, this would have been constructed from hemp ropes and would have been powered by either animals or people. However, Archimedes was a talented and renowned in Physics and engineering, being the person who first discovered or wrote an explanation on levers. In fact, Archimedes came up with two functions that were integral to the later development of elevators, including the compound pulley and the “Archimedes screw”. The Archimedes screw was a helical gravimetric machine that can be used to lift different materials like water and grains.
Lifts, in this case, were also known as hoists. These early hoists were primarily used to lift heavy loads like building materials or to transport food and water.
Other examples of primitive elevator systems, that were essentially hoists, were used to raise gladiators and animals from lower levels to fight in coliseums in Ancient Rome. Archaeologists estimate that the famous Colosseum in the centre of Rome had a total of around 24 elevators. But, how exactly were the wild animals tempted from their cages and led to fight in a coliseum without hurting others? The elevators invented by the Romans were able to astronomically lift cages up to 300 kilos and seven metres high – a remarkable effort that we wouldn’t initially expect in this era. What’s more, the elevator and trap door systems were designed to simultaneously release the wild animals at the same time. Apparently, though these systems were sophisticated in their time – archaeologists predict that it took around eight slaves and three animal keepers to ensure that these could perform smoothly.
In fact, in 2015, a team of archaeologists, engineers and architects built a replica of what these lifts would have looked like, using materials that would have been available to the Ancient Romans. They permanently installed this in the Coliseum, much to the delight of many tourists, and on its inauguration, they used it to transport a wolf to the Coliseum floor.
Although the fall of the Roman Empire led to many inventions becoming lost in the grains of time, lifts and hoists didn’t completely disappear. another interesting recording of an early lift was in the year 1,000 where al-Muradi, an Andalusian mathematician and astronomer, detailed in his book of secrets that a contraption similar to a lift was used to raise a battering ram to destroy a fortress in Islamic Spain. And, in 1405 the German Engineer Konrad Keyser described a design of an elevator operated by ropes in his book Bellifortis on military technology.
From this, we can assume that lift-style contraptions were man-powered and commonly used by labourers to create buildings.
18th and 19th Century – The beginnings of the domestic lift
Skipping a few centuries, the development of lifts and hoists remained largely unchanged until the Enlightenment Era and the Victorian Era – two parts of human history that are significantly known for their scientific, artistic and technological developments.
Another historic recording of a lift was by the behest of King Louis XV. Interestingly, this was the first recorded instance of a lift that was solely designed for passengers – rather than for animals for barbaric sport or building materials for construction. At the time, this invention was considered ‘the flying chair’ and was installed at the Palace of Versailles in 1743. However, this lift wasn’t just used by any passenger – the lift was designed to secretly transport the King’s mistress to his bedroom and was manually operated by the passenger themselves by pulling a cord with counterweights. So, no one could know about this secret liaison.
The catalyst for what we can identify today as the modern lift was in 1765, the invention of the steam engine. This invention sophisticated previous elevator systems and allowed them to move much heavier loads – ideal for industrial developments. From this, numerous other elevator developments followed, including the invention of the first hydraulic cargo lift in 1846. This type of lift used a water pump and worked with a water pressure to raise and lower the platform.
From this, the developments in elevator engineering were unstoppable. Significantly, in 1852 the first safety lift was developed by Elisha Otis, which meant that the lift wouldn’t fall if the cable snapped. And in 1870, the Equitable Life Building in New York was the first building in the world that used passenger lifts. In 1887, the first elevator with an automatic door was created, and in 1894 the first hydraulic lift with push buttons (and without staff) was invented. By 1900, the lifts that were being used were a far cry from their predecessors.
20th and 21st Century
The rapid industrialisation, as well as the rise in mass production, meant that the construction industry boomed during the 20th century, in turn creating elevators of various speeds and with new safety features.
Notably, in 1931, Otis Elevators, the company started by Elisha Otis would be the company to install the elevators in the newly completed Empire State Building in New York, capable of travelling 1,200 feet per minute – seamlessly traversing one of the world’s first skyscrapers. And, in 1944, an American inventor Joseph Giovanni patented a safety bumper that prevented the elevator doors from closing on passengers and if an obstruction was in the way.
After the Second World War, many European cities had to be rebuilt as a result of the number of bombings. This meant that elevators became the norm in both domestic and commercial builds.
Moving forward to the 21st century, amongst the technological boom, there is a continued pressure amongst thriving urban cities to build the biggest and the best in architecture. From Dubai to Tokyo, New York to London, and Singapore to Sydney, these cities and many more are in competition with one another to reveal stunning new architectural masterpiece – a symbol of their economic prosperity and societal success.
Euro Lifts, Domestic and Commercial Lift Installers in the South West
Whether you are in the midst of designing new apartment blocks in Bristol, or you are looking to build a seaside hotel in Devon, it is likely that you will want to install a lift. If this is the case, then make sure to speak to one of our experts at Euro Lifts. Here, we can supply, install and repair a variety of different lift types from passenger lifts to stair lifts and goods lifts.
What’s more, if you are searching for ‘emergency lift repair’, we can help. Our team understands that a technical issue can occur any time, and sometimes it seems to happen when it is the most inconvenient – whether you are on the way to work, or you are in a lift packed full of people. No matter the issue or time of day, one of our friendly experts can come help fix the problem.
To find out more about the various lifts we offer, or you would like to receive a quote from one of our team, simply contact us today.