Commentary
6:00 am
Tue April 9, 2013

Into It: The Rise Of The Pedestrian Joyride

The word “escalator” was a trademark of the Otis Elevator Company, who used it to describe the wooden-stepped model they displayed at a Paris Exposition in 1900.
Credit Sam Howzit / flickr Creative Commons

The idea of the escalator has been around a lot longer than a working model.

Nathan Ames first patented “Revolving Stairs” in 1859, though he didn’t specify materials or have a practical use in mind.

Even 30 years later when Leamon Souder patented what he called the “Moving Stairway or Elevator,” it never saw production.

It was an engineer named Jesse Reno that really got the idea moving. He designed the “endless conveyor belt,” which appeared as an amusement ride at Coney Island in 1896. Seventy-five thousand people rode this slow, seven-foot incline over its two weeks debut. After that, it showed up on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Circa 1896 when the "endless conveyer belt" moved from Coney Island to the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Credit brooklynmuseum.org

Riding an escalator at the turn of the century was a true rush. It was like nothing people had ever experienced. In London, the department store Harrods had employees dispense smelling salts and cognac at the top of the lift for distressed customers.

The word “escalator” is itself quite interesting. It was a trademark of the Otis Elevator Company, who used it to describe the wooden-stepped model they displayed at a Paris Exposition in 1900. The trademark held until 1950, when a landmark legal case decided that the ubiquitous term had become part of the public domain. It’s wild to imagine, but the verb escalate didn’t come about until 1922.

Since then, our lift technology has been on the up and up.