Elisah Graves Otis Sells His First Elevator

On September 20, 1853, Elisah Graves Otis sold his first "hoist machines," or elevators, featuring an automatic safety brake that he had recently patented.

His seemingly simple invention—guaranteed to stop a rising platform from falling if the ropes that held it broke—not only launched Otis' business, but made possible the development of passenger elevators and, with them, the modern high-rise building. While before 1850 most buildings were no more than six stories tall, today's skyscrapers range from fifty to more than one hundred stories in height.

Otis opened his small enterprise on the banks of the Hudson River in Yonkers, New York, in a space where he still worked as the foreman of a bedstead factory. At first few people, including Elisha Otis, recognized the full implications of his new invention. Otis only abandoned plans to join the California gold rush after receiving an unsolicited order for two freight elevators with safety brakes. To produce them, he went into business with his sons Charles and Norton.

Lacking further orders, however, Otis arranged with P. T. Barnum to publicly demonstrate his device at the first American world's fair in New York City. During May 1854, as the legend goes, Otis would mount an open elevator platform installed at the center of the Crystal Palace exposition hall, hoist himself to the ceiling, and with a dramatic flash of a saber, cut the rope. As the platform began to plummet toward the ground, Otis' patented safety brake kicked in with a jolt and broke the elevator's fall. "All safe, gentlemen, all safe," became his famous refrain. This showmanship launched the elevator industry, so that by 1856, Otis' sales totaled twenty-seven elevators.

The Otis Elevator Company is the world's largest manufacturer of vertical transportation systems today, principally elevators and escalators. Founded in Yonkers, New York, USA in 1853 by Elisha Otis, the company pioneered the development of the safety elevator, invented by Otis, which used a special mechanism to lock the elevator car in place should the hoisting ropes fail. Otis made skyscrapers possible by providing safe mechanical transport to upper floors.[citation needed]

Otis has installed elevators in some of the world's most famous structures, including the Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building, World Trade Center, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Petronas Twin Towers, CN Tower and the Skylon Tower. Otis has also installed elevators in the main hotels on the world, and the spanish department stores El Corte Inglés.

Statistically, Otis is the world's most popular transportation company. It is estimated that the equivalent of the world's population travel in Otis elevators, escalators and moving walkways every three days. According to United Technologies, Otis elevators carry the equivalent of the world's population every nine days.