Lifts have been used throughout history for many different reasons, but the electric lift didn't come into play until very recently in the long history. Lifts are believed to have been used right throughout ancient history, and are believed to have played a very important role in the ancient Egyptian empire, especially with the construction of their great monuments, namely the great pyramids & sphinx. However, the first ever recorded and documented proof of a lift can only be found in 236 BC, in the ancient empire of Greece.
The first documented evidence of a lift was, indeed, the plans and designs created by Archimedes of Greece and came in the form of a hoist and pulley system. Archimedes’ invention involved a rope slung around a capstan, or pulley wheel, with one end attached to the weight that needed lifting, and the other end attached to another capstan, onto which was attached a lever or turning handle. Manpower was then required to turn the handle, the process of which wound the rope around the capstan to which the handle was attached, which in turn rotated the top capstan, lifting the required weight with a lot less effort, and no distance for the manpower to cover. The first believed usage of such a system wasn't until the construction of the Roman Emperor Nero’s palace, the building of which is believed to have included 3 of these lift and pulley systems.
Throughout history from that point on, lifts had altered, but one problem still remained. All lifts would suffer badly if the rope lifting them was to break due to wear or too much weight. Each time this occurred, the lift would plummet back to the ground resulting in the complete destruction of both the lift and its contents. For this reason, lifts struggled to become a major business and no passenger-bearing lifts were ever built.
However, in 1853-54 that all changed. An entrepreneur named Elisha Graves Otis invented the first ever safety brake, which went on public display in Crystal Palace, New York. The safety brake consisted of a 7-arm mechanism attached to the lifting rope. The mechanism was housed between the lift compartment and roof and worked as follows:
- Attached to the rope holding the lift was an arm, on the opposite end of which was attached a weight, along with a bracket to which was connected two more arms. These two arms were pointed away East and West respectively.
- Each of these arms had a third arm attached to their far ends, via a bracket. The third arms both pointed downwards, or South.
- On the end of each of the third arms was attached a fourth arm, pointed away East and West respectively. On the end of these fourth arms was attached a hook or metal peg.
- On each side of the lift shaft there was a series of metal obtrusions all the way up, like the teeth of a saw of cog wheel.
- In the event of the rope breaking, the weight attached to the first arm would pull it sharply downwards. This, in turn would pull the second arms inwards and downwards. The action of the second arms would cause the third arms to pull inwards at the top end, whilst pushing outwards on the bottom end, turning on a central pivot. The outward action on the bottom end of the third arm would push the fourth arm outwards and against the shaft sides, allowing the hook on the arms to attach on to the teeth on the shaft walls, and thus stopping the lift from plummeting back to the ground.
Elisha was so confident in his design that he demonstrated it for the first time by going high above the crowd on a platform lift, and then purposely cutting the supporting rope. This same mechanism idea is still used in lifts today, due to the level of safety it can provide.
Additionally, across the Atlantic in Britain in 1853, two partners by the names of Frost and Stutt together invented the world’s first ‘Teagle’ lift, based on a traction mechanism. This allowed lift to be pulled up and down by counterweights attached to a driving engine, and therefore didn’t require any manpower to move. Today we know this style of lift as a shaft elevator. These two breakthroughs spelled a new future for lifts, and the first passenger lift, driven by a steam engine, was installed in a 5 story hotel in New York in 1857. The lift could rise and lower at the rate of about 12 metres per minute, approximately 20 centimetres a second.
It was not long before the electric lift would appear on the scene. In 1866 a man named Werner Von Siemens began experimenting the with possibilities of using the dynamo-electric principle to power devices, and through it produced the world’s first electric railway engine. This proved a massive hit with the public, and it was through that invention that he was commissioned in 1879 to build the world’s first electric lift. Running off of the design of the engine, the electric lift was built in little over a year (and even then was slightly late) and first went on display in the Mannheim Trade & Culture Exhibition in 1880. The lift was once again a massive hit and allowed the public to ascend to a display area on an open platform without actually seeing the power behind the lifting (the lift was run by a motor attached to the underside of the platform and ran a gear system to make the platform ascend and descend).
Today the electric lift is a common sight in everyday life and is even considered an eyesore in many places, often being located in the centre of buildings where they cannot be easily seen from the outside. However, Sesame prides itself on being behind the next great breakthrough, as the first company in the world to be able to design, build and install a completely invisible electric lift, an invisible lift that serves a function even when not being utilised.