Luxury Lifts: An Elevated History

Lifts are such a commonplace feature of commercial buildings that they’re easy to take for granted; you’d be forgiven for thinking they always existed, and you’d almost be right. But given how important they are to the overall design of an office or hotel, there is no reason not to install an elevator in your property which will stand out from the crowd and make people take notice. Here are a few of the ways lifts have evolved throughout history.

Early lift technology

Believe it or not, the first lift was designed and constructed in the 2nd century BC by Archimedes. Rather than being enclosed moving spaces, they were open platforms which were either operated by hand or by animals. Their function was usually to transport bulky goods, and their utilitarian purpose was reflected in their somewhat ungainly design.

French king Louis XV had a “flying chair” designed for his palace at Versailles. Its passenger had to operate the pulley system himself, and its design – by royal architect Blaise-Henri Arnoult – was later adapted into a “flying table” system planned for two of the king’s private residences.

The myth of Elisha Graves Otis and the safety brake

The man commonly held responsible for the popularisation of the lift was Elisha Graves Otis, who invented and patented a safety brake which dramatically reduced the risk of lifts falling due to broken cables. Otis’s rise to popularity occurred in 1854, when he rode a demonstration lift in the middle of that year’s New York World’s Fair, before theatrically cutting the cables, proving that his invention worked. His first public lift, complete with safety brake, was fit into a New York department store, Haughwout & Co, three years later.

However, despite many more recent stories reporting the immediate impact of Elisha Otis’s invention, Andreas Bernard’s recent book Lifted: A Cultural History of the Elevator points out that it was “almost completely unnoticed by the public.” Its significance was only made clear further down the historical line. Meanwhile, at almost the same time, another Otis – Otis Tufts – had developed a “vertical railway” which ran via a “twenty-inch-wide steam-driven iron screw running through its centre”. It may not have been convenient – indeed, it was slow and expensive – but it was certainly safe.

Elevators, skyscrapers and refined design

The Elisha Otis model was improved over time, but remained the basis for the lifts of the future. He constructed the elevators for the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building – early examples of extremely high-rise buildings employing lifts. As city design was becoming more aesthetically pleasing as well as functional, architects began to involve lifts as an integral part of their planning. This ranged from the brutalists including separate towers to house lifts in construction blueprints, to more opulent, stylish Art Deco designs or the transparent, scenic external lifts on the Lloyds of London headquarters.

Having recently partnered with Gruppo Millepiani – the Italian titans of bespoke lift design – Premier Platform Lifts can offer a taste of Art Deco elegance or futuristic glass carriages to any specification. Explore our range of luxury lifts, which drawing on centuries of rich architectural history, and can give your building a timeless new feature to dazzle guests and clients.