In May, 1854, an amazing demonstration took place at the American Institute Fair in New York City. Elisha Graves Otis rode an open elevator to a great height. Then he ordered its lift cable cut. Onlookers gasped, expecting the elevator to plunge to the ground, but it stayed in place. Otis had invented and installed an automatic safety device for elevators. And he had risked his life to prove that it worked!
Born in Vermont in 1811, Otis manufactured wagons and carriages and then worked as a master mechanic in factories. The need for safe ways to install heavy machinery in factories led to his first experiments with “safety hoists” for elevators. Soon he invented the device that prevented an elevator from falling if its lifting cable broke.
The advent of skyscrapers in the 1870s led to a huge demand for Elisha Otis’ invention. Today, many US elevators are built by the Otis Elevator Company, which was founded by Elisha Otis’ sons. So the Otis nameplate is familiar to many people who live or work in tall buildings.
Elisha Otis also invented a steam plow, a rotary oven, railroad-car brakes, and a steam-driven elevator.