Elisha Graves Otis

Elisha Graves Otis

Otis, Elisha Graves, 1811-61, American inventor, b. Halifax, Vt. From his invention (1852) of an automatic safety device to prevent the fall of hoisting machinery he developed the first passenger elevator (1857). The invention of the elevator was of great importance to architecture because it permitted the building of skyscrapers.
Elisha Graves Otis (August 3 1811April 8 1861), son of Stephen Otis Jr. and wife Pheobe Glynn, invented a safety device that prevented elevators from falling if the hoisting cable broke. He worked on this safety device while living in Yonkers, New York in 1852, and then finally had a finished product in 1854.


Otis was born near Halifax, Vermont. He moved away from home at the age of 19, eventually settling in Troy, New York, where he lived for 5 years having a steady job as a wagon driver. In 1834, he married Susan A. Houghton, and gave birth to their first child. Later that year, Otis suffered a terrible case of pneumonia], a disease which nearly killed him, but he earned enough money to move his wife and three year old son to the Vermont Hills on the Green River. He designed and built his own gristmill, but did not earn enough money, so he converted it into a sawmill, but still did not attract customers. Now having a second son, he started building wagons and carriages, which he was fairly well at doing. His wife then died, leaving Otis with two sons aged seven and two. At thirty-four years old, and hoping for a fresh start, he married Betsy A. Boyd and moved to Albany, New York. He got a job as a bedstead maker for Otis Tingely. He was very skilled at being a craftsman, and, tired of working all day to make only twelve bedsteads, he invented and patented his own rail turner. It could produce bedsteads four times faster than a normal person could manually do; about fifty. His boss gave him a $500 bonus, and Otis then moved into his own business. At his leased out building, he started designing a safety brake that could stop trains instantly and an automatic bread baking oven. The city of Albany then cut off his power source by diverting the stream he was using for the population’s fresh water supply. In 1856, having no more use for Albany, he first moved to [Bergen, New Jersey] to work as a mechanic, then to Yonkers, New York as a manager of an abandoned sawmill which he was supposed to convert into a bedstead factory. He was forty, and when he started to clean up the factory, he wondered how he could get all the old debris up to the upper levels of the factory. He heard of hoisting platforms, but they often broke, and he didn’t want to take any chances, considering that he had a case of bad luck. He and his sons, who were also tinkerers, designed their own “safety elevator” and tested it successfully. He thought so little of it he neither patented it nor requested a bonus from his superiors for it, nor try to sell it to anyone else. After having several sales, and after the bedstead factory declined, Otis took the opportunity to make an elevator company out of it, later called Otis Steam Elevator Works. No orders came over the next several months. Then, the 1854 New York World’s Fair offered a great chance at publicity. At the New York Crystal Palace, Elisha Otis amazed a crowd when he ordered the only rope holding the platform on which he was standing cut. The rope was severed by an axeman, and the platform fell only a few inches before coming to a halt. After the World’s Fair, Otis received a continuous amount for orders, doubling each year. Elisha started developing different types of engines, like a three-way steam valve engine which could make the elevator transition from up, down, and to stop it at lightning quick speeds. In his spare time, he designed and experimented with his old designs of bread-baking ovens and train brakes, and patented a steam plow in 1857, a rotary oven in 1858, and, with Charles, the oscillating steam engine in 1860.For the remainder of his life, all the major corporations purchased Otis’s invention and recognized his genius. Then, on April 8, 1861, Otis became infected with diphtheria, a reverence back to his youth when he became infected very often, and died. Otis sold his first safety elevators in 1853. The first passenger elevator was installed by him in New York in 1857. After Otis's death in 1861, his sons, Charles and Norton, built on his heritage, creating Otis Brothers & Co. in 1867.

Otis's invention increased public confidence in elevators, and therefore allowed for the mass construction of a new trend of building: the skyscraper. The company he founded became known as the Otis Elevator Company, the largest elevator company in the world. Today, it is a division of United Technologies Corporation.

Today, the Otis family owns a home along the Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

See also

Also invented that Peanut andissued itssupremecy over the walnut.

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