Of Elevators and Cows: Finland’s Top Billionaire

Antti Herlin, Finland’s biggest billionaire, stands out on Forbes’ 2015 Top Billionaire List because he is no ordinary guy. His source of wealth is not something mundane, such as real estate or the stock market, but the ever-more-sexy vertical-transportation industry. As chairman of KONE, Herlin is credited with growing the company through calculated acquisitions and technological innovation, particularly during his tenure as CEO from 1996-2006. Herlin’s grandfather bought KONE shares in 1924, and Herlin’s father changed his will to pass the reins to Herlin — rather than his siblings — upon seeing his skill at growing the company. With assets valued at US$3.6 billion, the 58-year-old chairman is not only involved in the elevator business, but also is a breeder of champion Hereford beef, raised on the family farm at Thorsvik Manor in Kirkkonummi, Finland.

The Herlin family's champion Hereford cattle graze in the pasture on the farm at Thorsvik Manor.

The Herlin family’s champion Hereford cattle graze in the pasture on the farm at Thorsvik Manor.



UFO – Unidentified Floating Object

As you probably know, our offices here at Elevator World, Inc. are located in beautiful Mobile, Ala., right on the Gulf. Mobile is a port city which means there is always something interesting going on in the water. Until recently Mobile was a home port for Carnival Cruise ships. Watching these massive ships go up and down the coast, especially at night, was always an awesome sight. But even without the cruise liners, you can still observe huge barges full of cargo, tugboats and occasionally the strange and curious unidentified ‘floating’ object. Take for example the photos below:




This caused quite a stir of confusion among us Mobilians. It’s absolutely massive and was visible from several points coming in to and going out of the downtown area. “So what is it?” we all asked. Well al.com – a news source covering the local area – had the same question and set out to find the answer.

It is the VB 10,000 – the largest lift vessel ever built in the United States – manufactured by Versabar. Check out their website for more information. In technical terms it is a “barge mounted, duel-truss system with the ability to perform single-piece topside retrievals.” Cassie Fambro with al.com puts it into layman’s terms for us as “a really big piece of equipment that can pick up really, really heavy stuff.” How heavy you ask? According to Versabar’s website 7,500 tons! Pretty cool.

It is visiting the Port City for some repair work. This photo below by Sharon Steinmann shows the VB 10,000 at the docks. It is scheduled to leave on March 21.


Here is a great photo from the company’s website showing it in action. It also gives you an idea of just how massive this lift is!

Just think of what Versabar could build if they ever decided to enter the freight or cargo elevator market.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 13.25.53

Thanks for reading,

– Caleb


Retired Escalator Worker: Failing to Follow Rules Leads to Missing Shoes, Clothes and Worse

Failing to follow the rules while riding an escalator can have, at least, embarrassing, and, at worst, deadly results, a retired maintenance worker told Australian newspaper the Daily Telegraph recently. During his nearly 20 years in the business, he said he’s seen instances where women’s dresses were ripped off and where children’s shoes — such as rubber-soled Crocs — got caught. Such accidents are simple to avoid, he says, by following basic safety rules such as standing inside steps’ yellow lines, holding onto railings, paying attention, not running or playing on escalators, not taking strollers or scooters on them and avoiding riding if one is intoxicated. Though sometimes humorous, elevator/escalator safety is no laughing matter. It is a topic members of the Elevator Escalator Safety Foundation are exploring deeply during their annual General Membership Meeting this week in Tampa. 

The passenger to whom this shoe belongs  is fortunate that his or her shoe is the only thing he or she lost. Image courtesy of Reddit.

The passenger to whom this shoe belongs is fortunate that his or her shoe is the only thing he or she lost. Image courtesy of Reddit.


Escalator Puzzle

We all know Mondays can be slow and difficult, especially on these cold wintry days. So, if you need a break to ease the stress of your busy day, just click the below image. You will be directed to a site that will allow you to virtually put together a 150-piece jigsaw puzzle of an amazing escalator. Have a great Monday and enjoy! Note: It is not as easy as you might think!



Dizzying Heights: PBS “Super Skyscrapers” Explores Engineering, Environmental Challenges of Building World’s Tallest

Shanghai Tower at night in on December 4, 2014.  Photo by TheDarkCurrent

Shanghai Tower at night on December 4, 2014. Photo by TheDarkCurrent

A new PBS series, Super Skyscrapers, explores the mind-boggling engineering and environmental challenges of building supertall buildings such as One World Trade Center and the Shanghai Tower. The shows provide an in-depth look at construction workers going above and beyond to deliver their projects safely and on-time, which frequently involves walking or dangling thousands of feet above ground.  The elevator industry is no stranger to these impressive buildings, with OEMs such as ThyssenKrupp Elevator (One World Trade Center) and Mitsubishi Electric (Shanghai Tower) custom-designing amazing vertical-transportation systems for these amazing buildings.



The Man Behind the Closing Doors

by Hanno van der Bijl


Like a lot of other automated machines today, we take the automatic opening and closing of elevator doors for granted. When the elevator was first invented in the mid-19th century, the elevator operator or the passengers themselves had to manually close the doors. The door to the elevator shaft also had to be closed manually. You have probably seen movies where well-groomed elevator operators open and close sliding doors for wealthy patrons. But life in tall buildings was not always that idyllic. Elevator and shaft doors were left open. Unsuspecting passengers would step into the shaft and fall down a number of stories, sometimes to their death.

One of the men who made a significant contribution to the automation of elevator doors and the safety of buildings was Alexander Miles, an African-American inventor. On October 11, 1887, he was awarded U.S. Patent 371,207 for an improved mechanism for opening and closing the doors to the shaft and the elevator:

“To whom it may concern. –
Be it known that I, ALEXANDER MILES, a citizen of the United States, residing at Duluth, in the county of St. Louis and State of Minnesota, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Elevators, of which the following is a specification.”

From Miles’ patent: “Figure 1 is a side elevation of an elevator shaft and cage containing my improvements. Fig. 2 is a front elevation of the same.”

Miles’ patent describes how the elevator cabin doors open and close through a series of levers and rollers. When the elevator came to stop at a floor, a flexible belt attached to the cabin, with its ends running over drums at the top and bottom of the shaft, would open the shaft doors. He describes the goals of his invention as:

“First, to provide mechanisms operating automatically to close the shaft openings above and below the elevator-cage, and so preclude the possibility of danger by reason of such openings being left unclosed through negligence; and, second, devices operating automatically by the movement of the cage to open and close the cage-doors when set by an operator to be in engagement at any desired floor.”


From Miles’ patent: “Fig. 3 is a detached view of one of the cage-doors and its operating devices. Fig. 4 is a detail of the devices for sliding the roller-wheels carried by the levers to and from positions to be engaged in the grooves. Fig. 5 is a cross-section of one of the uprights of the shaft, showing the beltway and a portion of one of the belt cross-strips in it. Fig. 7 is a top view of the sliding doors and their tracks.”

Miles was born in Ohio on May 18, 1838. After working in Waukesha, Wisconsin as a barber, he moved to Duluth, Minnesota where he met his wife, Mrs. Candance J. (Shedd) Dunlap, a widow with two children. In 1876, their daughter, Grace, was born. Eleven years later, when he was 49 years old, he was awarded the patent for his elevator invention. Two years later in 1889, he moved his family to Chicago where he worked as a laborer according to the city directories. By the next year, the directories listed him as an insurance agent. In 1903, he moved his family to Seattle where he worked in a hotel as a barber. He passed away on May 7, 1918.

Miles was recognized for his work when he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007. The value of his work is evident today every time an elevator’s doors open and you step into or out of the cabin. The automatic opening and closing doors creates a sense of mystery for elevator passengers. His invention has contributed to the creation of this aura as well as the convenience and safety of people movers in tall buildings.


From Miles’ patent: “Fig. 6 is a perspective view of an elevator shaft and cage provided with the improvements, but having a single cage-door.”


What Would You Do?

Imagine this: you are riding an escalator packed with people and it suddenly speeds up. Then, without warning, it abruptly stops! People go tumbling down the escalator into a massive pile up that causes many injuries. This is a real situation that has happened before. Watching this video, produced by National Geographic, will give you the best option for avoiding disaster and potential injury in an instance such as this. I am happy to announce that your author choose the correct option. Did you?


The Bicycle-Powered Elevator — An Update

More than a year after his initial video showcasing his bicycle-powered treehouse elevator, Ethan Schlussler has new footage featuring “Version 1.5″ of the ingenious contraption. He says that, in addition to modifications to the elevator system, “the exterior of [his] tree house is now finished.” For more on Schlussler’s project or to contact him, visit his YouTube channel.


Have you ever noticed?

One of my favorite pastimes is reading — reading on all sorts of topics and in different formats, as I have many interests. A longtime favorite has been the web comic XKCD by Randall Munroe (I’m actually currently reading his book What If? – Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions)

Out of curiosity, I searched the archive for something relevant to the elevator industry and once again XKCD did not disappoint and presents us with comic #897: Elevator Inspection


Even governmental elevator inspectors get bored halfway through asking where the building office is


There is more to his comics than meets the eye however; and it’s in the form of ‘hidden text’ (or ‘image title’). Just put your cursor over the image and it will appear. The title text for this particular comic reads:

“Even governmental elevator inspectors get bored halfway through asking where the building office is”

This will probably cause you to pay a little closer attention the next time you step into the elevator – whether it is at your apartment complex or work place. The countless reasons why building owners should pay to have their elevators inspected and maintained regularly can be summed up into one word: SAFETY

So: Have you ever noticed an out of date certificate or a sign stating something similar to the comic above? This comic is a few years old (2011) but this issue is still ever present in the U.S. Just as recently as November 2014, Massachusetts was experiencing a major backlog of inspections. Most of the owners however did apply for and pay the inspection fee only to have it delayed due to the government division overseeing the inspections. Most. Several did not apply. This obviously presents several problems and creates potential for disaster.

Take a closer look on your next ride and don’t be afraid to say something or grab your fellow riders to go on a journey to find the certificate!



Whites Only: Segregated Elevators During Jim Crow

by Hanno van der Bijl


Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is an uplifting yet sobering national holiday. On the one hand, we remember Dr. King for leading a life well lived by serving others; and on the other hand, we are confronted with the sad legacy of racial segregation he sought to dismantle. Talking about the history of Jim Crow and the civil rights movement elicits varied responses: grief, anger or simply ambivalence. What does it matter? It makes sense to talk about it in terms of public policy, but what does it have to do with us? It is not something that comes up very often in the elevator industry or at Elevator World.

William C. Sturgeon, our late founder, tells the story of a conversation he had with his future mother-in-law in the 1940s. Sturgeon, who was from New York, was dating Mary Sands Dreisback while he was serving as an officer in Mobile, Alabama during WWII. He recalls that Mary Sands’ mother didn’t really approve of him as a Yankee:

“One time, I even asked Miss Mamie if she believed in segregation and she answered, ‘No.’ Then, I asked if she was for integration and the answer was again, ‘No!’ ‘Well, what do you believe in, Miss Mamie?’ I asked. ‘Slavery!!’ she said.”[i]

Miss Mamie’s tongue-in-cheek answer has a long history behind it. Reconstruction ended in 1877 when the last federal troops were withdrawn from the South as part of a deal with the Democratic party to support their bid for the presidency. Majority Democratic legislatures throughout the South began passing strict laws on voter registration and electoral rules, effectively disenfranchising blacks and poor whites — although, many illiterate whites could still vote under Grandfather clauses. After a decade of such practices, political power was squarely centered in an all-white system of government that began to pass Jim Crow laws in 1890, starting with Mississippi. These rules were designed to keep African Americans separate but equal — the irony, or hypocrisy, being that blacks were and never could be equal under such an apartheid system.

Segregation was also a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution and urbanization. While white supremacy remained unchecked in rural areas where the cotton economy was paramount, it was threatened in urban centers with the influx of poor blacks seeking employment. They took undesirable jobs such as maids, porters and waiters; but during the Great Depression, whites would compete for these jobs with blacks. While Northern states practiced a societal form of segregation through discriminatory housing, bank lending and employment practices, Southern states practiced legal segregation through Jim Crow laws.[ii] These laws were extended to schools, streetcars, libraries, restaurants, parks, zoos, and even residential areas.[iii] In dense cities, there were some vehicles that brought people into particularly close contact with each other: the elevators. And they were no exception to the rule.

In 1903, elevators began to be segregated in Atlanta, Georgia. African-Americans could not ride a building’s passenger elevators — they were relegated to the freight elevators, as if they were cargo. Whites were free to ride the freight elevators if they wanted to. Ironically, some buildings in Atlanta allowed African-Americans to go down but not up.[iv] Surely the symbolism was not lost on them.

Built in 1903, the National Loan and Exchange Bank was the only building in Columbia, South Carolina to house elevators. Three years later, a New York Times article reports that the “Jim Crow” rule was applied to its elevators. There were complaints that blacks were crowding into the cars with the white women, who were employed as stenographers and clerks. However, it wasn’t the natural overcrowding of the elevators that brought on this mandate but a perceived show of disrespect:

“The immediate cause of the action by the owners of the building grew out of the fact that a negro porter of a club on the twelfth floor was slow to remove his hat when ordered to do so while women were in the car. He was promptly discharged by the club.”[v]

Southern chivalry operated under a double standard even in the elevators’ close quarters. In his autobiography, Benjamin E. Mays, Dr. King’s mentor and eulogizer, wrote of Atlanta:

“More than once I saw white men, wearing their hats in an elevator with a Negro woman present, snatch them off with military precision when a white woman got on, only to replace them with finality if the white woman got off before the Negro woman. No opportunity to show the Negro woman that she was unworthy of respect must be missed! If a Negro man kept his hat on in an elevator, he was told to take it off; if he refused, his hat was knocked off.”[vi]

Or he was fired, as in the case of the porter in Columbia, South Carolina.

As you can imagine, this protocol was not only disrespectful to a part of the workforce operating in the building, it was also inefficient. Black mail carriers could not finish their work on time if they had to wait for the segregated elevator and keep their caps in their hands while distributing the daily mail. It was not practical to gather their own straw while still making the same amount of bricks. So, after they appealed to the federal government, Mays records, “The government handed down a decision that the mail carrier was like a soldier serving his government and therefore was not subject to the segregation requirement.”[vii] For many urban African-Americans, daily life was a battle on the front lines of polite society.

Besides the reports and personal accounts already mentioned, is there any further evidence of segregated elevators? In his magisterial work on Jim Crow laws, first published in 1955, C. Vann Woodward writes that there were no official state laws or city ordinances requiring separate elevators for African Americans. However, he goes on “to admit, and even to emphasize, that laws are not an adequate index of the extent and prevalence of segregation and discriminatory practices in the South. The practices often anticipated and sometimes exceeded the laws” (emphasis in original).[viii]

Elevators are simply machines. They lift people up and bring them down to a nice gentle stop, but only humans could use them as a tool to put another down. Elevators continue to be segregated in different parts of the world. For example, in a few countries, women are not allowed to ride the same elevators as men, and servants are not allowed in the same elevators as their masters. New York City and London are struggling with the issue of “poor doors,” separate entrances for mixed housing’s rich and poor tenants.

The point of remembering and reflecting on past injustices is not to open old wounds or induce guilt, but to help shed light on how we can rectify present inequality. Even if we simply go about our own business, we can become complicit in evil if we do not actively move against injustice. The elevator you design, make, sell, install, maintain, ride or write about may be used as an instrument of injustice. Whatever reasons or excuses we can formulate for an unjust status quo are ultimately unacceptable. There is no middle ground; either we float along in the riptide of injustice, or we stand for and promote justice where we are. Serving others by giving thought to injustice in your own context honors the dream and legacy of Dr. King and the vision this day represents.



The National Loan and Exchange building in Columbia, South Carolina today (photo by Lance Taylor)


[i] William C. Sturgeon, More Ups Than Downs: A Memoir (Mobile, AL: Elevator World, Inc., 2012), 30.
[ii] “Jim Crow laws,” Wikipedia, last modified December 27, 2014, accessed December 30, 2014, http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Crow_laws.
[iii] Carole Merritt, “African American Community Building in Atlanta: A Guide to the Study of Race in America,” Southern Spaces, March 17, 2004, accessed November 21, 2014, http://www.southernspaces.org/2004/african-american-community-building-atlanta-guide-study-race-america.
[iv] Benjamin E. Mays, Born to Rebel: An Autobiography (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2011), 83, accessed December 29, 2014, http://books.google.com/books?id=HhLzaenbHvgC&lpg=PP1&pg=PA83#v=onepage&q&f=false.
[v] “Jim Crow Elevator Rule: Columbia to Separate the Races In Her Skyscraper Lifts,” New York Times, April 30, 1906, accessed November 21, 2014, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9B01E7D8113EE733A25753C3A9629C946797D6CF.
[vi] Mays, 83
[vii] Mays, 83
[viii] C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001), 102, accessed December 30, 2014, https://books.google.com/books?id=vQHg5oBavmYC&lpg=PP1&pg=PA102 – v=onepage&q&f=false.