People who live in tall apartment buildings or work in high-rise offices use elevators every day, but few probably stop to think about how they came into existence and how much they have influenced modern life. Elevators have made possible many things that we take for granted.
The first elevator was invented by Greek mathematician Archimedes in 236 B.C. The design has evolved considerably over the centuries. King Louis XV of France had a one-story elevator in his palace that was referred to as a “flying chair” and worked by pulling on a rope.
Elevators took a leap forward during the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s. Due to the need for large amounts of fuel to transport people and materials to operate coal mines, elevators came to be widely used in mines. They proved to be well suited for the task.
Early elevators had safety risks, however. Elisha Otis invented a safety brake that could stop an elevator from dropping, even if the cable was cut. By making elevators safer and more reliable, it became possible to use them in tall, modern buildings.
Before the elevator became widely used, builders were limited to creating structures where people could comfortably climb stairs to the upper floors. If the elevator had not become widely adopted, modern buildings would probably not be taller than eight stories. The invention of the safety brake made it possible to use elevators in tall buildings, which paved the way for modern marvels like the Burj Khalifa.
The ability to create tall buildings made it possible for cities to grow. With the ability to build higher, it became possible for large numbers of people to live in a single building. Many cities, including Tokyo, Shanghai, Mexico City, and Delhi, now have over 10 million inhabitants each.