The First Elevator
March 23, 1857 - The first successful passenger elevator was installed on this day at 488 Broadway in New York City.
Primitive lifts date back to ancient Rome, where Archimedes designed one supported by hemp ropes and powered by animals. By the 1800s the technology had not greatly improved and the lifts that existed were notoriously dangerous. Due to the high risk, these lifts were reserved almost solely for moving objects, not people.
Inventor Elisha Otis had designed a safety system that would catch a falling lift should its main support fail. He proudly demonstrated this breakthrough at the 1853 World's Fair in New York's Crystal Palace. Otis stood on the elevated platform high above the crowd then directed a burly assistant to sever the support cable with an axe. The platform dropped a few inches but the safety system quickly stopped the descent.
A few years later when a state-of-the-art building was constructed to house the E.V. Haughwout chinaware emporium, the architects decided to include the very first Otis passenger elevator at a cost of $300. That same elevator is still in working condition.
By 1873 there would be over 2000 Otis elevators in use.