- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 5, 2003


You're probably way too young to recall, but when elevators were new contraptions in buildings, they required an operator and an engineer to run them.

In fact, the early elevators were steam powered. Yup, they had a steam boiler and all the trimmings. The height of the building they could service was somewhat governed by the ability to get fuel up to the roof. Imagine having to transport tons of coal daily to the top of a high-rise.

To go along with the engineer, the operator in the elevator car greeted people at the various floors, stopped the car in perfect alignment with floor and signaled the engineer which way to send the car. All of those functions are automated in the modern elevator, but there is a carry-over from the signaling. When an elevator arrives at your floor and is on the way down, the chime rings twice. On the way up — the chime rings once. Ding!

The steam-powered elevator was invented by Elisha Graves Otis. Elisha died in 1861 but his sons carried on the tradition and by 1873 more than 2,000 Otis elevators were in use across America.

Modern electric elevators use either geared or gearless traction systems, depending on the building's height. The elevator car is supported by several steel hoist ropes that are connected via a system of pulleys to a counterweight. Both the car and counterweight ride along vertical guide rails to keep them from swaying. Those rails are important for another reason — the emergency braking system grabs onto the rails and stops the car in the (highly unlikely) event that the cable snaps.

Not only was the Otis Elevator Co. deeply involved in the history of elevators, the company's Web site also tells you all about it. Browse on by at: otis.com/aboutotis/elevatorsinfo/.

(Comments?, Questions? Send them up to [email protected])

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