What Impact Did the Elevator Have on Society?

The elevator impacted society by allowing cities to continue to grow because people could now build buildings taller. The hierarchy inside the buildings also changed. Before the elevator, the poorer tenants lived on the higher floors; after elevators were installed, richer tenants began to move into the higher floors.

The earliest known elevator is believed to have been built by Archimedes in approximately 236 B.C. Elevators that were steam and water-powered were used in the mid-19th century. These elevators had ropes that could be worn out and were not generally used by passengers. In 1852, Elisha Graves Otis invented the safety elevator, which used a break that could suspend the car in place if the rope broke. The first safety elevator was installed in a five-story building in New York City on March 23, 1857.

The Otis elevator helped revolutionize cities by making skyscrapers possible. Taller buildings quickly arrived in the cities, including the 20-story Masonic Temple in Chicago and the 55-story Woolworth Building in New York. Before elevators, servants and the poor were expected to climb the stairs and live on the higher floors. After elevators were installed, the higher floors became more desirable because they were quieter and offered better views of the city. Hotels turned the top floors into penthouse rooms and began renting out roofs for garden parties.