One of the most notable characteristics of New York City is it’s soaring buildings. Especially Manhattan. Once large numbers of people wanted to live in Manhattan however, the number who could was limited by the size of the buildings that could be built to house them. And what made the soaring skyscrapers that now dominate Manhattan and elsewhere possible was the elevator. And what made the elevators used today possible was a safety mechanism based on a spring which stopped an elevator falling if it’s cable broke.
Elisha Graves Otis was not a native New Yorker but he was living in NYC when he found the solution to unsafe elevators and it was here that he finally managed to convince sceptics that his safety mechanism for elevators would work. And once that happened the building industry in the City and the world was transformed.
He realized that a spring could be used to snap into place over some ratchets if an elevator cable broke and that that could stop an elevator simply falling down it’s shaft once there was nothing holding it up.
It was not until 1854 that Otis managed to make a spectacular demonstration of his elevator safety mechanism at the Crystal Palace Exposition in NYC. He created an open sided elevator so everyone could see could clearly see how the whole mechanism worked. Then he himself climbed on board along with some heavy freight and had the elevator ascend high off the ground. He had an assistance mounted high up beside the elevator shaft and once the lift got high enough the man swung an axe and chopped the elevator cable in half. The lift started to fall but then dramatically stopped brought to a halt by Otis’s safety mechanism.
Builders and architects were convinced and the possibilities of what could now be achieved in terms of building much taller buildings was recognized. Ordinary memebers of the public took longer to convince as elevators had for so long been assocaited with danger. Plus the top of buildings had always been reserved for servants and thus the idea that well to do people could live there was regarded as very strange. So the whole revolution in the immense real estate value of living and working up high took awhile to take place in NYC. But after Otis’s dramatic demonstration of his safety mechanism in NYC, very tall buildings became possible and NYC and the world would never be the same