Lifting Platform Antecedents

There are multiple types of antecedents to the elevator depending on which definition is utilized for the term elevator. In the simplest terms, an elevator is a platform on some type of rigging apparatus that can be raised or lowered by any means. Some historians claim that cranes are the antecedents to this now novel notion of a raising platform. If the latter definition is used, then the earliest antecedents to Otis’s elevator began in Ancient Greece in the third century B.C.[1] If using the former definition, then the first antecedents appear in the Roman times. The best examples of antecedents begin in the18th century, specifically one in France. These antecedents constructed the logical framework that would be used to construct a passenger elevator.

It is hard to believe that the modern elevators antecedents began in ancient Greece, but some believe that it did. Their evidence lies in the foundational technologies and ideas that would allow for the creation of elevators in the 19th century. Archimedes designed the rudimentary block and tackle with ropes allowing for greater weights to be pulled by men.[2] In 100 B.C. there is documentation to support that treadmills were used to lift block and supplies to construct Haterii’s Tomb. Humans began to experiment with increasing their lift potentials in this early period.

Haterri Tomb Lift

Much later, Romans used the rope and pulley systems in more elaborate ways. Emperor Nero is suspected of having four elevators in his palace. The Forum of Rome, a scene of gladiatorial games, had a series of elevators to raise both gladiators and animals into the ring. Archaeologists found counterweights during an excavation of the Colosseum suggesting the use of six elevators in their productions.[3] Although they are not being declared as passenger elevators, it can be assumed that these examples serve as antecedents to Otis’ elevator.

Roman Elevator

A more realistic and modern antecedent to Elisha Otis’s elevator is from France. Louis XV of France had a “flying chair” commissioned. The personal lifting device carried Madame de Pompadour from her room in the palace of Versailles to Louis XV’s room.[4] It was by no means as safe as Elisha Otis’s elevator. Servants were the lifting source in the 18th century. This would change in the late 19th century. Louis XV’s flying chair may have been the first intended passenger elevator as well as the first one without historical doubt attributed to it.

These antecedents to the Elisha Otis lead to the predicament that gave Elisha Otis not only a job, but also technological fame and legacy. The earliest hoist designs are still used today as are the ideas of a raising platform by counterweight. These inventions and technological innovations serve as the inspiration and rudimentary beginnings that will become Otis’s elevator.


[1] “EW Museum”, n.d., http://www.theelevatormuseum.org/early2.php.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “The Apartment of the Marquise de Pompadour,” Chateau de Versailles, n.d., http://en.chateauversailles.fr/index.php?option=com_cdvfiche&idf=A63698EE-7806-CCE9-5ED1-7F547CA287F8.

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