Smithsonian.com recently explored the “strange world that is the escalator” in “How the Escalator Forever Changed Our Sense of Space.” The piece takes readers through the early history of the invention, from a never-realized 1859 patent for “revolving stairs,” to Jesse Reno’s mechanical escalator that debuted to awestruck crowds in Coney Island, New York, to the piece of machinery most similar to the escalator of today — conceived by Charles Seeberger around the same time as Reno’s invention and acquired and marketed by Otis. The escalator stole the spotlight at the Paris Exposition of 1900, and quickly proved transformative to retail, the workplace and public transportation.
Of the Paris Expo, Smithsonian observed:
“Organizers and government officials were concerned how this exposition would make its mark — after the introduction of the Eiffel Tower at the fair in 1889, how could the [fair] 11 years later complete? Officials entertained many bizarre proposals, many of which involved alterations of the Eiffel Tower itself including the potential additions of clocks, sphinxes, terrestrial globes, and a 450-ft. statue of a woman with eyes made from powerful searchlights to scan the 562-acre fairgrounds.” It ended up, however, that the escalator “shone brightest” at the expo, winning Grand Prize and a Gold Metal for its “unique and functional design”
Otis trademarked the name “escalator,” but, like cellophane, kitty litter and aspirin, the term became so ubiquitous that competitor Haughton — since acquired by Schindler — successfully petitioned the US Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the trademark. Today, Otis and Schindler continue to be major players in a world in which the number of escalators doubles every 10 years.
Last year, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Helsinki, courtesy of KONE, to tour their newly remodeled underground high-rise elevator test laboratory and shaft, the deepest in the world. While that was clearly a highlight of the trip, the magic of Helsinki was on full display at every turn, including at the hotel where KONE put up its journalist guests. Located in a historic building steps away from Helsinki’s South Harbor, it is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World and has hosted the likes of the Dalai Lama and Kylie Minogue. It is a beautiful place with an interior that reminds one of a fairytale castle. Attention is paid to every detail, including its elevator, an impressive installation by Schindler that features a stainless steel and rich wood cab that travels in a black-cage shaft in the center of a white marble staircase. I should have videotaped its smooth, elegant operation, but these pictures will have to do!
The Schindler elevator in Hotel Haven has a stylish stainless-steel and wood cab.
NAESA International’s inaugural Elevator Industry Safety Summit drew approximately 200 professionals to the Sheraton Grand Phoenix on May 21-23 for two days packed full of excellent presentations about elevator/escalator equipment and practices to prevent injury and save lives. At the end of the event, participants’ applause let organizer Bob Shepherd, NAESA executive director, know they definitely would like to see the event continue. The host hotel provided expansive ballrooms to accommodate the presentations, as well as impressive vertical-transportation systems. In addition to a Schindler destination-dispatch elevator system, Sheraton Grand Phoenix boasted an impressive bank of Otis escalators with lovely art installations. For whatever reason, at least one escalator at industry events your author has attended over the past several years has been out of service, so it was nice to see a system that was not only beautiful, but in perfect working order!