What Is An Elevator And How Does It Work?

Isn’t it amazing how a piece of machine like an elevator can move people, things and even pets up and down from one floor to another in a building without feeling exhausted but feeling safe? 

 This fascinating piece of technology has a long and interesting history yet most of us don’t give much thought about it. It may seem like a modern invention, but did you know that elevators have been around and was used for almost 2000 years?  Let’s try to understand more about elevators and find out how they work.


In 236 B.C., there was a Greek mathematician named Archimedes who created the first elevator. This was operated manually with hoisting ropes around the drum that was rotated and applied to a capstan. This primitive elevator was powered by water wheels, animals or people.

In 1743, a human-powered elevator was invented and it was the personal elevator of King Louis XV of France. It connected his apartment in Versailles to Madame de Chateauroux, his mistress who lived one floor above him. 

In the mid 19th century, elevators began to advance significantly as many were powered by steam and water, but it was generally not safe for transporting people because the ropes that were relied upon were prone to wear and tear when used frequently. 

So in 1852, Elisha Graves Otis invented a safety break, where a bow-shaped wagon spring device is placed that would flex and jam its ends into the guide rails in the event that tension on the rope or cable is released or the elevator’s hoisting rope breaks. This will force the car into a sideways braking action when in downward motion, thus, suspending the car in place. He called his piece of invention as an “improvement of hoisting apparatus” and in 1857, Otis’ first commercial passenger elevator was installed in a 5-story department store building in New York City. 

Because of Otis’ invention of an elevator brake, it revolutionizes the vertical transport industry that made it possible to build skyscrapers and eventually changed the world’s skyline. This is also the reason why Otis’ invention was described as one of the important machines of all time. 

In 1859, the first patent of a “vertical railway” was  filed by Otis Tufts. His elevator design debuted within the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York City where an actual car has a bench inside. 

Early elevators were often called” ascending rooms”. It was considered as a luxury since it was so expensive. The interior is designed with upholstered seats and mirrors on walls. Early movement was slow since it was powered by a steam engine.

Elevator shafts are now the core of every major architectural design. The first office building to feature the elevators was the Equitable Life Building in Manhattan. It was built by Otis Elevator Company and elevators are based on hydraulics so traveling is faster and it is easier to maintain.

What is an elevator and how it works?

An elevator is a piece of vertical transport vehicle that efficiently moves people or goods between floors of a building. 

The working principle of an elevator is similar to a pulley system, The concept of moving a load in an upward or downward direction is via a sophisticated mechanism for handling load of an elevator. The elevator is connected to a tough metal rope and this rope passes through a sheave on the elevator in the engine room. Since it may be difficult to pull up a heavy object using only a rope tied to it, this will be possible and easy if weight is attached to the end of the rope which is hung over a pulley.  The other weight known as the counterweight balances the first weight and makes it easy to pull up. The sheave, like a wheel in a pulley system, clutches the metal rope strongly and the system is operated by a motor. This will turn the wheel in either direction to either raise or lower the elevator car. So when a switch is turned on, the motor can be activated and lets the elevator go up, down or stop.

The following are the basic components of a standard elevator:

  • Car
  • Hoistway
  • Machine/drive system
  • Control system
  • Safety system

When you push the buttons in the elevator, it signals to the computer system where to pick up the passenger and where to go. Elevator systems use a computer algorithm to work efficiently. It can be programmed so that more cars can be used during peak hours and this is based on usage history. 

Looking for an Elevator Company in NYC?

If you’re looking for an elevator company in New York contact North American Elevator’s technicians!

North American Elevator
146 W 29th St, New York, NY 10001
(646) 741-0550

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