History of Escalators

Nathan Ames, of Saugus, Massachusetts, in the US, invented the first escalator in 1859. He called his invention “revolving stairs’, but in the patent there is no mention of the type of materials he preferred to use or how he thought this design might be out to use. The mechanism he developed could be either manual or be controlled by hydraulic power, but he never did develop a prototype of the design. It was in 1889, that the first successful patent for the escalator was granted. This was to Leamon Souder, but again no model of the design was ever built.

Jesse Reno patented the first endless conveyor or elevator in 1892. He produced the first working escalator, which he called the inclined elevator. This escalator was installed next to the Old Iron Pier on Coney Island, New York, in 1896. It was little more than a moving belt that travelled along an incline of 25 degrees. There were cast iron cleats on the belt to provide traction for the passengers. The same prototype was used in the construction of the escalator installed on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge later that year.

Another designer, Charles Seeberger, began working on the escalator designs of George Wheeler, whose designs had never been built. Seeberger developed a design of flat moving steps, but this design did not have any ridges to keep the passenger’s feet from slipping off. To counteract this effect, his design had the escalator keep moving once it reached the bottom or top and he extended the handrail. The first commercial escalator developed by Seeberger and the Otis Elevator Company won first prize at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900.

Piat, a French manufacturing company, had also been working on developing an escalator. The first such device in Europe was installed at the Harrod’s store in Knightsbridge in about 1895. It did have a patent for the escalator, which it called the Fahrtreppe in 1906, but due to the success of the Seebringer design at the exposition, sales fell when other companies preferred the US model.

The Otis Elevator Company had the monopoly on the escalator, although many companies did develop their own models marketing them under different names. For example, the Peele Company called their design the Motorstair and Westinghouse used the name Electric Stairway. Today, Otis has many competitors, chief among which are Kone, Schlindler and Mitsubishi.