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Going Up! Remembering Elevators From Childhood

Do you remember when stores employed elevator operators? I remember the operators greeting us and asking about the floor we wanted to exit on. There were no stores that I remember in my hometown, but there were stores in Jamestown and Buffalo. I think there was at least one in Warren.

To think that was a job back in the day! We are not talking about skyscrapers. These were multiple-floored stores but relatively small.

Years ago, I wrote on article about Elisha Otis and his elevator. Today I have located more information about the origin of the elevator. Otis still played a part, but there were precursors to his “safety elevator”.

The name Otis is still on many of today’s elevators. The next time you use one be sure to look for his name. I remember seeing that name on the elevators at Warren General. Every time I entered; I recalled the famous inventor.

The invention of the elevator made the construction of skyscrapers possible. Who would be able to climb all of those stairs? Although I was unable to come up with the tallest building at this time, I know the first building to have an elevator, the “flying chair”, was Louis XV’s palace. Eighty-six years after the “flying chair” William George Horner installed the first public elevator at the Regent’s Park Coliseum in London. A charge of six pence was made to enter this elevator and use it to ascend to upper floors.

Elevators did not become commonplace until Otis demonstrated them at New York’s Crystal Palace in 1854. His was named the “safety elevator” after a demonstration that had him suspended in the unit. He had others cut the rope with an axe and nothing happened, thus the term “safety elevator”. Ratchets locked the device in place.

The first store to install an elevator was put into operation in 1857 at Haughwout & Co. on Broadway, New York City. New York also boasts the first elevator installed in a hotel. It was installed at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in1858.

Meanwhile, other manufacturers were installing elevators at strategic spots in Europe.

When we shopped in Buffalo there was one aunt who was afraid of escalators. She preferred the elevator with a person to run it. Most of us took the escalator and went to wait for Aunt Betty to get off of the elevator. Sometimes, Cora or my grandmother rode with her.

In my mind escalators were safer. If they stopped between floors, you just walked the rest of the way up the stairs. In my traveling days I even took the escalator carrying my suitcase. It was a little tricky but it worked.

When we cruised, although there were elevators, we used the stairs for most activities. We needed the extra exercise that the steps provided. There is a lot to eat onboard and the exercise helped use calories.

The CN Tower in Toronto, Canada, has at least 147 stories. That would not have been possible without the invention and installation of elevators. It is said that it travels 20 feet/second. I am sure that other elevators go even faster than that today.

I recall the elevator in the Empire State Building getting us to the observation deck in what seemed like seconds. Elevators always affect my ears. I have found if I yawn while it is moving that helps. I remember telling the grandchildren to yawn as we climbed.

The Athenaeum at Chautauqua Institution has a passenger elevator that I suppose was installed when it was built. It is in the old part and I have ridden it. I recall the door opens both ways depending on the floor you access. I also remember that the elevator travels very slowly and is extremely tiny. It is a good thing I am not claustrophobic.

I have also ridden the elevator that goes up the outside of the tower at Niagara Falls. You can see so much from that vantage point. If a child did not want to ride, they were allowed to wait with one of the chaperones. We always had at least one chaperone that chose not to ride. On our field trip we always stayed so the children got to see the lights on the falls. That meant we got home late, but oh well, it was only one day a year.

I also know there is an elevator inside of the Statue of Liberty at this point. I recall walking up the winding staircase. I was young and it was fun. We also walked as far as we could go up in the Washington Monument. I am not sure my mom appreciated my adventurous side.

Most of my readers are country dwellers or at least live in a small town. Elevators are not part of their everyday lives, but every once in a while, I am sure most of them have ridden some pretty big elevators.

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa. Contact at hickoryheights1@verizon.net.

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