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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Almanac/Going Up!

Air Date: Week of September 20, 2002

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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.

Transcript

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

[MUSIC: Ferrante &Teicher, "On A Clear Day," Concert in the Clouds (United Artists)]

CURWOOD: 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 forever. And, for this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac.

[MUSIC UNDER]

 

 

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