Did you know…that the world's first passenger safety elevator began operating in Lower Manhattan?
On March 23, 1857, the world's first passenger safety elevator went into service inside a five-story department store building on Broadway and Broome Street, clearing the way for the creation of taller, more accessible buildings.
Designed by Elisha Graves Otis, the safety elevator drew upon earlier elevator designs but incorporated an automatic brake system that could prevent the car from falling when its cable or rope snapped -- a common occurrence in the early days of elevator innovation.
A master mechanic at the Bedstead Manufacturing Company in Yonkers, New York, Otis began designing the safety elevator as part of an assignment to create a freight elevator to move the company's goods throughout its warehouse. During its testing phase, the longtime struggling Bedstead Company went bankrupt and was forced to close down, leaving Otis jobless and his elevator design abandoned.
While making plans to travel west and join the Gold Rush, Otis received an unsolicited order for two of his safety elevators from a nearby furniture manufacturer that had recently lost two employees in an elevator accident caused by a broken cable.
Committed to having his elevator produced, Otis opened his own shop in a section of the abandoned Bedstead building on September 20, 1853. Within a year, he demonstrated the first safety elevator at New York City's Crystal Palace Exhibition. Before a startled crowd, Otis cut the rope and a safety spring quickly locked the fully loaded car firmly in place. Orders soon skyrocketed.
Further innovations in the safety elevator produced an all-passenger version, designed to allow visitors to travel to the upper floors of taller buildings without having to climb lofty staircases. On March 23, 1857, Otis sent the world's first passenger version of the safety elevator into service in a department store on Broadway and Broome Street in Lower Manhattan.
He continued to improve upon the system and introduced a hydraulic elevator in 1878, increasing elevator speed to 800 feet per minute. Later that same year, Otis installed the first passenger version of the hydraulic elevator at Lower Manhattan's 155 Broadway.
The innovations in the passenger elevator throughout the mid-1800s are credited with revolutionizing the elevator industry and facilitating the rise of tall buildings and, eventually, the skyscraper.