The History of the Dumb Waiter
Dumb waiters may sound like something from the past, but they’re actually still in use today. You’ll find them in both commercial and residential spaces and they are quite useful. A dumb waiter is essentially a small elevator designed to lift goods or cargo between floors of a building. They’re built into the walls in most cases and you may not even realize that there’s a dumb waiter in your home, because they’re often hidden.
In its simplest form, the dumb waiter is a simple frame with a floor that is lowered and raised via rope and pulleys within a shaft that is built into the wall. Early versions were entirely manual, but electric motors were included in the mid 1920s, making the lifting of items much simpler.
The dumb waiter name appears to have come from the fact that you could have a silent waiter deliver whatever you needed, directly to your room. There was no need to talk to the lift, once your original order was put in. It was a silent or “dumb” waiter in your room.
The First Cargo Lift
No one is quite sure how long cargo lifts have been in play, but the first recorded one was made around 200BC. It was created during the Roman times and allowed cargo to be moved from one level to the next. These were very basic and may or may not have included pulleys, depending on where they were used.
It wasn’t until much later that the dumb waiter became something more commonplace. Simple versions were just boxes that were pulled up to the next floor. These were available in homes in the 1800s and sometimes included a tube that ran down to the kitchens or servants’ quarters, so the owners of the home could call down their orders and have food sent up to their rooms without having an actual servant coming in.
Goods Lift: The Evolution into Dumb Waiter
George W. Cannon was an inventor living in New York when he came up with the idea for a braking system for dumb waiters in 1883. This made it easier to lower items in the elevators, without fear of dropping them too quickly. Before this, people had to rely on their upper body strength to hold the goods as they were lifted or lowered, to prevent the lift from plummeting. The brake system was a very popular addition to the dumb waiter.
Cannon later invented a mechanical dumbwaiter in 1887, which made him quite a bit of money. He enjoyed the royalties of these patents for the next 10 years, before he died in 1897.
In the 1920s, motors were added to the dumb waiters, making it even easier to use them. They were considered to be a staple for every rich home and were installed quite frequently in both old and new homes of the rich.
Building codes of the time were written to require the dumbwaiter walls to be built from fireproof materials and to include self-closing fire doors. These regulations were only required in some areas, but the prevalence of the lifts made it necessary to include them in the local building codes. Some building codes required buttons to make movement more controlled and door locks so that no one could hide in the dumb waiter and climb into a room they weren’t supposed to be in.
These lifts were used mostly for transporting food and laundry. The food dumb waiters usually ran straight to the kitchen and from there, up to the various rooms in the home. This made it quite simple for people to call their orders down the shaft and have the food sent up. Other homes used it for the laundry so that the maids didn’t have to carry heavy baskets up and down the stairs.
The Modern Dumb Waiter
Today’s dumb waiters are a vast improvement on those early versions. Today, you’ll find that dumb waiters are essentially small elevators. They’re electronic and can be programmed to stop at each floor or only go to a specific floor, as preferred.
Intercoms make it easier than ever to communicate with the person at the other end of the lift and you’ll find that they come with safety locks to protect everyone from improper use. The cabins may even be heated, if you so desire.
Something that has certainly changed however, is that dumb waiters are no longer just for the rich and the elite. They’re becoming more and more commonplace in regular homes. As people see the value in them, they plan to install one and make things that much simpler for themselves. It’s no longer a luxury item, but a necessity.
Uses for Dumb Waiters
Dumb waiters may be used in homes or in businesses and how they’re used will depend on the application. Goods lift manufacturers are kept busy producing these handy devices for homeowners and companies alike.
A dumb waiter can be very useful for your home, if you have multiple levels. A common way to use them is to have the dumb waiter come up from the garage to the kitchen, allowing you to move groceries easily from the car to the kitchen, where you can put them away.
Many people still use the dumb waiter from the kitchen to the bedroom, so there is a quick and easy transfer of food and snacks. You can also run a lift from the bedrooms or upstairs hall to the laundry room so you can transfer clothing up and down as needed.
You may also find that you use a dumb waiter to the basement to move items that you want to keep in the basement or you can send them up to the attic. It’s a much better solution than trying to carry everything with you.
Dumb waiters make it possible for anyone to transport items between floors. Even if you have limited movement, you can get the things you need into the dumb waiter and send it up or down to easily expand your access to things in your own home. Most dumbwaiters open at serving height, but this can be adjusted according to how you prefer.
A number of industries use dumb waiters to improve their efficiency. The actual use will depend on the particular industry, but here are a few of the more common ones:
Garages may use goods lifts to bring tools from a second level or even, in some cases, to move cars up and down, depending on the size. When tools and parts are stored on the second level, this makes it handy to have a way to access those without needing to carry heavy items up and down stairs.
Hotels often install dumb waiters to make it easier to transfer hospitality items, laundry, and cleaning products between multiple floors. It’s a faster way to provide housekeeping with what they need than having someone descend and get the items, then return to the upper floors.
In restaurants with more than one level, dumbwaiters are useful to prevent spills on the way up to the next floor. They also speed up service, since the water can stay on that floor and simply pick up the dishes as they arrive in the lift.
Offices will use dumb waiter lifts to move equipment and heavy paperwork from floor to floor, as well as files and products.
In a warehouse, a lift can be quite useful in moving products from one level to another. You may see this in large stores where you order a part and it’s called upstairs, then sent down on the lift.
There are so many ways to use dumb waiters and they are still popular, hundreds of years after people first began using them. These lifts are still useful and can be used in your home or your business, to make your life just a little easier. In businesses, they speed up the process of shifting product between floors and make it much easier to complete your customer orders.
Whether you are interested in installing a goods lift in your home or business, you should be aware that it is an expense, but a worthwhile one. You’ll save time and your back will thank you.
Are you interested in installing a goods lift of your own? Contact us today at Euro Lifts to find out how we can help you.