A brief history of lifts

It’s easy to think of lifts and lift engineers as a modern invention. After all, there were no lifts in the Colosseum – or were there? Take a closer look at the historical records and artifacts and you will see that ancient Romans often used slaves to lift building materials and even workers up to higher levels, pulling them up in baskets and on platforms using ropes and pulleys. The only difference was, there were no safety mechanisms back then, so if the rope snapped…

In fact, lifts stay this simple, and this dangerous, for thousands of years – with their passengers and cargo literally hanging by a thread – until the safety gear was invented in 1852. E.G. Otis, the man whose name can still be found on millions of lifts around the world, invented a clever device that would stop the lift from deadly freefall if the rope or cable broke. This major step forward laid the foundations for the modern world of lifts, lift engineers and lift maintenance that we all depend on today.

As you would expect, the first lift was installed in New York in 1857 – a clunky steam driven contraption that was nonetheless seen as state of the art. This was followed by hydraulic lifts in 1870 and modern style counter weight lifts in 1903. However, the new lift technology was seen as so innovative and complex that it was took 37 years for lift engineers to trust passengers with driverless, push button operation.

So next time you have a meeting on the tenth floor, give a little thanks to Mr Otis and his fellow lift engineers for saving you from ten flights of stairs, or even worse, saving you from hanging by a rope in a basket with no safety gear to save you if it breaks.