March 23, 2021
I have buttons but I’m not a shirt
I have doors but I’m not a house
I go up and down but I’m not an umbrella
I need at least two stories but I’m not a book of fairytales
I’m found in tall buildings but I’m not a penthouse
What am I?
I’ll even add one more clue… I was first installed into a commercial building on March 23, 1857.
The answer, of course, is an elevator.
It’s a device which makes high rise buildings possible and literally changed the urban landscape. The story, however, began five years earlier when inventor Elisha Otis developed a freight elevator that remained stable even if its ropes were cut.
The Infallible Wikipedia tells us:
“At the age of 40, while he was cleaning up the factory, he wondered how he could get all the old debris up to the upper levels of the factory. He had heard of hoisting platforms, but these often broke, and he was unwilling to take the risks. He and his sons, who were also tinkerers, designed their own ‘safety elevator’ and tested it successfully. He initially thought so little of it he neither patented it nor requested a bonus from his superiors for it, nor did he try to sell it. After having made several sales, and after the bedstead factory declined, Otis took the opportunity to make an elevator company out of it, initially called Union Elevator Works and later Otis Brothers & Co.
No orders came to him over the next several months, but soon after, the 1853 New York World’s Fair offered a great chance at publicity. At the New York Crystal Palace, Otis amazed a crowd when he ordered the only rope holding the platform on which he was standing cut. The rope was severed by an axeman, and the platform fell only a few inches before coming to a halt. The safety locking mechanism had worked, and people gained greater willingness to ride in traction elevators; these elevators quickly became the type in most common usage and helped make present-day skyscrapers possible.
After the World’s Fair, Otis received continuous orders, doubling each year. He developed different types of engines, like a three-way steam valve engine, which could transition the elevator between up and down, and quickly stop it.”
The Otis Elevator company endures to this day, now a $13 billion a year company which employs some 64,000 people.
As a child, getting to ride on an elevator was an event. Although I cannot recall my very first ride I would venture to guess that it might have been the Space Needle elevator during the 1962 World’s Fair. That elevator is particularly memorable as you get to watch, through the windows, as the world below grow smaller during your 500 foot ascent in just 41 seconds.
Most modern elevators have sleek doors which slide open and close and then almost imperceptibly take you to your destination floor. There are, however, some older elevators which exist that hearken back to a different era when having a job as an elevator operator was a thing. I had the 1940’s experience back in the 1970’s one night at the old Masonic Temple in downtown Tacoma. There for a dance which took place on the fifth floor, I recall stepping up to elevator which was caged behind an accordion grid. When the car arrived and the doors opened, a grumpy looking older man – the operator – opened the grid and motioned us in to the car for our ride to the fifth floor. There was something elegant about that ride; a civility and protocol lost to later generations.
But perhaps the most memorable elevator belongs to the tallest building in Seattle: the Columbia Center.
Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:
“The 76-story structure is the tallest building in Seattle and the state of Washington, reaching a height of 933 ft (284 m). At the time of its completion, the Columbia Center was the tallest structure on the West Coast; as of 2017 it is the fourth-tallest, behind buildings in Los Angeles and San Francisco.”
The tower, which was completed in 1985, boasts 48 elevators!
The company the hubby worked for in 1989 rented office space on floor 67, just nine floors below the very top of the building. Needless to say, riding one of those 48 elevators was a necessity.
As it turned out, it actually took riding on three different elevators to travel from the garage to floor 67. On any number of occasions when I visited the hubby there, I always enjoyed the dizzying and panoramic views of Elliot Bay to the west from his office.
But it was the elevator ride one day which provided the most amusement. As you might imagine from a building of that size it was easy to get confused as to what floor you were on and where you needed to be to get where you needed to go. Thankfully, a calming elevator voice would announce the floors as you arrived so that you didn’t exit sooner than you should.
We were on the descent to the lobby level this particular day. When the doors opened I startled at the gentle female voice which intoned ‘Get Out.’
Of course we did as directed and then, as we stood outside the elevator, I said to the hubby, “Did the elevator just tell us to ‘Get Out?’”
I think we determined the elevator was announcing the name of the street closest to where we had landed. But it didn’t matter. From that moment on whenever I visited at the Columbia Center I looked forward to the elevator voice as I arrived in the lobby telling me to ‘Get Out.’
It’s become one of our go to phrases whenever we take an elevator, always providing a bit of levity. I have a hard time imagining those old timey operators speaking to a passenger in such a way; on second thought I conjure up the image of that grizzled old guy from the Tacoma Masonic Temple and figure he’d have no problem telling rambunctious twenty year olds precisely that.
Links for your exploring pleasure:
Answer to the FB question: The building pictured is the One World Trade Center in New York city. It requires all 73 of its elevators to reach all 1, 776 feet of height, no doubt.