Otis, Elijah Graves

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b. 3 August 1811 Halifax, Vermont, USA
d. 8 April 1861 Yonkers, New York, USA
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American mechanic and inventor of the safety passenger elevator.
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Otis was educated in public schools and worked in a variety of jobs in the trucking and construction industries as well as in a machine shop, a carriage makers, a grist mill, and a saw mill and in a bedstead factory. It was when supervisor of construction of a new bedstead factory at Yonkers in 1852 that he developed the innovative safety features of an elevator that was to be the foundation of his later success. If the ropes or cables of a hoist should break, springs would force pawls on the lift cage to engage the ratcheted guide rails fitted into the sides of the shaft and so stop the lift. In 1853 he was planning to leave his job to join the California Gold Rush but representatives of two New York City firms who had seen his Safety Elevator and were impressed with the safety devices requested that he make them replicas. He purchased space in the Yonkers plant and began manufacture of the lifts. Demand was small at first until in 1854 he exhibited at the American Institute Fair in New York City with an impressive performance. Standing on top of the lift cage, he ordered the rope supporting it to be cut. The safety pawls engaged and the cage stopped its downward movement. From then on orders gradually increased and in 1857 he installed the first safety lift for passengers in the Haughtwout Store in New York City. The invention immediately became popular and started a revolution in architecture and the construction industry, leading to the design and building of skyscrapers, as previously buildings were limited to six or seven storeys, because of the stairs people had to climb. Otis patented several other devices, the most important of which was for a steam elevator which established the future of the Otis Elevator Company. He died at Yonkers in 1861, leaving his business to his sons.
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Further Reading
Scribner's and Webster's Dictionaries of Biography.
IMcN / DY

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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