February 8, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Elisha Otis

One day in 1852 Josiah Maise decided he needed a hoist in his bedstead factory in Yonkers. He summoned his master mechanic Elisha Otis and explained his requirements. Otis studied the problem and constructed the hoist, adding a ratchet safety to hold the platform should the hoist break.

It was the first elevator ever equipped with an automatic device to keep it from falling.

Otis was not particularly impressed with his invention. To him it was just another device he had rigged to keep the factory operating smoothly. He busied himself with plans to join the Gold Rush in California. But just as he was about to leave he received an unsolicited order for two "safety elevators." Otis was in the elevator business.

Otis had been tinkering practically since he was born in Halifax, Vermont in 1811, already the sixth generation of the Otis family in America. He was anxious to leave the family farm and travelled to Troy, New York to work in the building trade as soon as his father released him to do so.

He returned to Vermont and built a grist mill which proved unprofitable. Otis spent seven years crafting fine carriages but when the carriage business slowed he started building a saw mill. The project proved financially daunting and Otis built a water-turbine factory to make machinery. He did well for two years and seemed to have finally found prosperity. But the city of Albany, New York appropriated his stream and he was back in debt.

He was applying his inventive mind primarily to the bedstead factory when the elevator opportunity presented itself. At the same time Otis began building elevators the United States' first World's Fair, the Crystal Palace Exposition, was under way in New York. Otis demonstrated his elevator with a flair that suggested his showmanship talents were being wasted in the manufacturing trade.

The New York Tribune wrote, "We may commence by referring to an elevator exhibited by E. S. Otis of Yonkers - which attracts attention both by its prominent position and by the apparent daring of the inventor, who as he rides up and down the platform occasionally cuts the rope by which it is supported." As word spread about a safe freight elevator orders arrived from across the country. By 1855 27 Otis elevators were in service.

In 1857 Otis installed the first passenger elevator in the five-story store of E.V. Houghwout & Company, dealers in glassware and china. The elevator was belt-driven and ushered in the age of the skyscraper. The safe elevator made it practical for the erection of multi-story buildings.

Otis succumbed to a diphtheria epidemic in 1861, leaving a small company worth $5000 to his two sons. In the generations to come every major development in elevator technology could be attributed to the Otis family business.

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