Sept. 20: Elisha Otis sold his first safe ‘hoist machines’ (elevators) on this day in 1853


(Photo credit: Stephan Rebernik, Flickr)

Otis at the Crystal Palace. (Credit: Otis Elevator Co.)

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Without Elisha Otis, this Manhattan skyline wouldn't have been possible.

Exactly 160 years ago today, on Sept. 20, 1853, Elisha Graves Otis sold the first elevators with his patented safety brake. Each was $300, and he didn't call them elevators; he called them "hoist machines."

His brake made elevators safe for the world. Before that, if the rope holding the elevator broke, well, the elevator plummeted. And apparently that wasn't particularly uncommon.

So you might forgive folks if they were a little slow to trust Otis' elevator advance. The machine didn't catch on after the sale of those first couple of elevators. That took Otis himself personally demonstrating its safety at the 1854 New York Crystal Palace Exhibition: "Cut the rope!" he ordered while standing on a raised-high platform; the brake did its job, arresting what would otherwise have been his freefall to oblivion. "All safe, gentlemen!" he reassured the crowd.

Before the introduction of safe, practical elevators, building heights were limited by the number of stairs people were willing to climb. Otis' invention made the modern high-rise possible.

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