100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time

By Kendall Haven | Go to book overview

Elevator and Skyscraper
Year of Invention: 1852 (and 1885)

What Is It? Elevator: A mechanical lift to raise people and material vertically
through a building. Skyscraper: A building of 10 or more stories.

Who Invented It? Elevator: Elisha Otis (in New York). Skyscraper: James
Bogardus (in New York)


Why Is This Invention One of the 100 Greatest?

Elevators and skyscrapers go hand in hand. The elevator made taller buildings practical. Skyscrapers created a demand for elevators and made modern cities possible. Skyscrapers redefined how planners design urban areas and allowed for the creation of dense urban cores. Skyscrapers changed the way we live and work in cities and made dense urbanization possible. Before, higher floors brought cheaper and cheaper rents because tenants had to walk up stairs. Elevators reversed the priorities. Suddenly top floors and penthouses were all the rage and demanded by every fashionable person.


History of the Invention

What Did People Do Before?

Traditionally, buildings were limited to four or five floors. No one wanted to climb stairs to go any higher. Worse, each extra floors added weight to the building and meant that the lower floor masonry walls had to be thicker, thus shrinking prime first-floor space.

Cities could sprawl, but they couldn’t pack into compact hubs around prime urban neighborhoods.


How Were the Elevator and Skyscraper Invented?

Elevator: Elisha Otis was 38 when, in 1849, he moved from his native New Hampshire to New York City to take a job as a mechanic in a New York bed factory that was expanding. His first job was to help move equipment and bed-making supplies into the new four-story warehouse. The owner assigned Otis to oversee the installation of machinery in the new building—especially the equipment that had to be lifted to the upper floors.

The new building had a mechanical lift and platform. But it shook and teetered as it lurched up and down. Otis had to tie down each load and could only pack the center of the platform without risking the loss of valuable equipment as the lift jerked its way to the

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