“Although the concept of a powered hoist had been around for some time, Elisha Otis designed the first elevator that could lift and lower people and cargo safely. Born to a Vermont farmer in 1811, young Elisha preferred hanging around the blacksmith’s forge to working on the farm. Otis’s interest in tools and in making things led him to innovate everywhere he worked. He helped his brother, Chandler, who was a builder, by designing a hoist system to transport materials two or three stories high. Working for a bed manufacturer, he built a machine that sped production by a factor of four.
Hoist systems had existed since at least the time of the ancient Romans. But none of them had been safe. Otis designed the first safe elevator when he needed to lift heavy building materials, while converting a sawmill into a factory in Yonkers, New York. He made toothed wooden guide rails to fit into opposite sides of the elevator shaft, and fitted a spring to the top of the elevator, running the hoisting cables through it. The cables still guided the elevator up and down, but if they broke, the release of tension would throw the spring mechanism outward into the notches, preventing the cabin from falling.
With his two sons, Otis founded the Union Elevator and General Machine Works Company. He debuted his invention at New York’s Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1853. The impresario P. T. Barnum was there to hype the stunt and attract a crowd. Otis’s alarming demonstration increased orders for his “hoist machines.” Otis, a compulsive tinkerer, made numerous improvements to his elevator and patented other inventions, but he never managed to run a successful business. He died in 1861, leaving his sons to run the company with better business and managerial skills. Otis’s safety elevators would be used in tall landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings, becoming a brand name and key component in the skyscrapers that defined modern cities.”
“…He designed and built his own gristmill, but did not earn enough money from it, so he converted it into a sawmill, yet still did not attract customers. Now having a second son, he started building wagons and carriages, at which he was fairly skilled…
…he started designing a safety brake that could stop trains instantly and an automatic bread baking oven. He was put out of business when the stream he was using for a power supply was diverted by the city of Albany for its fresh water supply…
…At the New York Crystal Palace, Otis amazed a crowd when he ordered the only rope holding the platform on which he was standing cut. The rope was severed by an axeman, and the platform fell only a few inches before coming to a halt. The safety locking mechanism had worked, and people gained greater willingness to ride in traction elevators; these elevators quickly became the type in most common usage and helped make present-day skyscrapers possible…”