Impact

The most visible impacts of Elisha Otis’s invention occur everyday when a person stops onto and off of an elevator. An even more subtle impact is the skyline of New York City or any other major metropolis in the world. The company that Elisha Graves Otis created is still in operation, but under a different name. As presented earlier in the adoption article, the elevator grew with the growth of the skyscraper, but which object allowed for the construction of the other.

There is no doubt that the concept of constructing buildings well beyond their means was only perpetuated by the technological developments of steal. Electricity allowed the buildings to be lit safely and to eventually be heated and cooled, but what was the elevator’s role. The elevator allowed the skyscraper to reach new heights. Had the elevator not been utilized, the buildings would only be built as tall as a person can feasibly climb up stairs. At first, the poorest of people lives on the highest of floors due to this discomfort. Later on, the elevator allows the rich and wealthy to elevate them above the muck and dust of the streets below and to visually grasp the landscape that they control.

The skyscraper arguably grew with the advancement and procurement of the passenger elevator. In 1889, the Eiffel Tower in France was completed and heralded as the tallest man-made structure in the world. The Eiffel Tower also sported an Otis Elevator to carry passengers to its viewing areas.[1] This structure would not have been accessible has it not been for the elevator. In 1890 right after the invention of the Otis Electric Elevator, the largest building in the world, the World Building, reached 309 feet. By 1930, the Empire State Building’s Otis Elevator allowed the structure to reach over 1,200 feet.[2] Prior to this and the invention of the elevator, structures were limited to six stories; the buildings and their owner’s greed could exceed this mark after the invention and perfection of the elevator.

In the article mentioned earlier, the journalist writes four reasons that could be potentially enhanced or changed by the elevator. All four of these aspects are social issues. First, the best hotel rooms are farthest away from the ground floor, but “the comfort of low rooms is but a compromise between high prices, dust and noise, on the one hand, and excessive leg-weariness in stair-climbing.”[3] Second, the rent of office spaces lowers as the building increases. With elevators, almost prophetically, the journalist wrote that rent and accessibility could be the same. Third, the hoisting of goods would be safer and easier. Fourth, within the private residence, walking up stairs “is fatiguing labor — not useful exercise, and especially after a hearty dinner it may be highly injurious.”[4] According to a man of the time, the elevator will change the world. It will democratize the city and make it more comfortable. From this article, it seems unlikely that anyone would not want the utopia-making elevator.

Impact on Design and Culture

Many historians have stated the elevator’s impact on the architecture of skyscrapers. Most historians agree that the elevator allowed for the construction of the skyscrapers. The elevator also affects the design of the skyscrapers. The design itself sometimes focused around the elevator bays. Another effect of the elevator is on popular culture. Almost everyone is familiar with the genre of music called Muzak, which was popularized by elevators. The elevator gained in popularity affecting urban landscapes and culture.

Many historians do no underestimate the importance of the elevator. Rather, they seem to embellish it to its proper importance along with electricity. For example, George Douglas wrote, “Without the elevator and the electric light, the skyscraper could have been nothing but a dark and unpleasant cave rising out of the ground—a thing unfit for human habitation.”[5] Another historian, Joseph Kroom, included that passenger elevator as a major part of the definition of what it means to be a skyscraper.[6]The elevator’s popularity began in the 1860’s while the major skyscrapers did not start until the 1870’s. By the 1880’s, skyscrapers reached over 200 feet in Chicago.[7] The elevator spurred and allowed for the creation of the skyscrapers.

Not only did the elevator allow for the construction of skyscrapers, but also elevators affected the design of the skyscrapers. The Chrysler Building seemed to show off its elevators. In the lobby, a Siena travertine floor spread out in the shape of a triangle towards the elevator bay.[8] The elevator bays occupied the most central space of the building and the most accessible. By the 1930’s architects were placing the elevator banks at the center of the building.[9] This allowed for shops and corridors to surround the bays. The elevators formed the central arterioles of the skyscrapers and persist in this function today.

Chrysler Building Lobby

Chrysler Building Elevator

From the beginning of the elevator’s inception into the urban landscape, people were afraid of the elevator. For many years, as presented in prior sections, people did not trust the elevator. Uniformed attendants first assuaged their fears. In 1889, Muzak, soft melodic tones, soothed riders and coaxed them into boarding the platforms within the buildings.[10] The elevator music was a deliberate attempt to gain the trust and increase ridership on the elevators. Muzak is now seen as cliché, corny, or downright childish, but at the time people appreciated the subconscious comfort gained by the soft melodic tunes inside of the “Cans,” as people of the time called elevators. The elevator brought and popularized the Muzak genre to the public.

The two videos below exhibit the cultural impact of Muzak. The first video is a sample of jazz style Muzak. This style of music is similar to what would be heard on elevators in the early 20th century. The second video is a modern online TV show that displays the permeation of Muzak into popular culture and ironically makes fun of the original intention for Muzak.

There are few inventions that make an impact on the scale that the elevator accomplished. It is on the same plane as electricity or the telephone. The elevator revolutionized vertical transportation. It helped evolve and expand the urban landscape. It also altered the design of skyscrapers to make elevators the focal point of lobbies. The affect on popular culture by elevators cannot be understated, especially by aiding in the popularization of Muzak genre. Elevators raised the city beyond its own constraints.

Conclusion

An unlikely inventor, Elisha Otis, developed the safety break for the lifting platforms. His tinkering successfully ended with a patent and the Otis Elevator Company. The simplistic design and use of cables out competed other, arguably better designs. The elevator allowed for the development of the skyscraper by allowing for safe transportation. The skyscrapers grew and become more ornate, but the elevator became an integral and central part of the design and art utilized in these skyscrapers. The elevator allowed for the urban landscape to transform and raise the feasible height of all buildings past the level comfortable for people to walk.


[1] Gaston Tissandier, The Eiffel Tower: A Description of the Monument, Its Construction, Its Machinery, Its Object, and Its Utility : With an Autographic Letter of M. Gustave Eiffel (Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1889), 70-74.

[2] McAfee, Competitive Solutions, 81-82.

[3] “SCIENTIFIC NOTES.; Steam Versus Stairs–The Movable Room in the Fifth-avenue Hotel-Value of the Principle for Private Residences, and for all ‘Elevators.’”

[4] Ibid.

[5] George H. Douglas, Skyscrapers: A Social History of the Very Tall Building in America (McFarland, 2004), 61.

[6] Joseph J. Korom, The American Skyscraper, 1850-1940: A Celebration of Height (Branden Books, 2008), 19-20.

[7] Joseph Anthony Amato, On Foot: A History of Walking (New York: New York University Press, 2004), 231.

[8] Douglas, Skyscrapers, 96.

[9] Ibid., 133.

[10] Joseph Lanza, Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-:istening, and Other Moodsong (University of Michigan Press, 2004), 39.

Bibliography:

Amato, Joseph Anthony. On Foot: A History of Walking. New York: New York University Press, 2004.

“Article 17 — No Title – Article – NYTimes.com.” New York Times, November 8, 1852. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9406E4DE1438E334BC4053DFB7678389649FDE&scp=3&sq=elevator+accident&st=p.

“Coroners’ Inquests.; DEATH OF AN INFANT FROM ALLEGED MALPRACTICE.” The New York Times, August 11, 1860, sec. Archive. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F70712F93E5B1B7493C3A81783D85F448684F9.

Douglas, George H. Skyscrapers: A Social History of the Very Tall Building in America. McFarland, 2004.

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

Karwatka, Dennis. Technology’s Past: America’s Industrial Revolution and the People Who Delivered the Goods. Prakken Publications, 1996.

Korom, Joseph J. The American Skyscraper, 1850-1940: A Celebration of Height. Branden Books, 2008.

Landau, Sarah Bradford, and Carl W. Condit. Rise of the New York Skyscraper: 1865-1913. Yale University Press, 1999.

Lanza, Joseph. Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong. University of Michigan Press, 2004.

Magazines, Hearst. Popular Mechanics. Vol. 63. 5. Hearst Magazines, 1935.

McAfee, R. Preston. Competitive Solutions: The Strategist’s Toolkit. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2002.

“NOVA | The Other Elevator Inventor”, n.d. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/elevator-inventor.html.

Schweikart, Larry, Safari Tech Books Online. American Entrepreneur the Fascinating Stories of the People Who Defined Business in the United States. New York: AMACOM, 2010.

“SCIENTIFIC NOTES.; Steam Versus Stairs–The Movable Room in the Fifth-avenue Hotel-Value of the Principle for Private Residences, and for all ‘Elevators.’” The New York Times, January 23, 1860, sec. Archive. http://www.nytimes.com/1860/01/23/news/scientific-notes-steam-versus-stairs-movable-room-fifth-avenue-hotel-value.html?scp=6&sq=falling%20elevator&st=p&pagewanted=2.

“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.

Tissandier, Gaston. The Eiffel Tower: a description of the monument, its construction, its machinery, its object, and its utility : with an autographic letter of M. Gustave Eiffel. Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1889.

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