Saturday, January 24, 2015


Sorry this is late - Saturday instead of my usual Wednesday - and it’s also not about writing. Unless you clever authors find a way to put what I’m going to tell you in one of your books. Perhaps a historical romance. It’s about a fact which, like me, you probably didn’t know. Fact: no skyscrapers were built in American cities before the 1850s.

Well, maybe you did know that, but did you know why? It wasn’t because architects and engineers didn’t have the means to build them, but rather because people who lived in cities were deathly afraid of them. Back then, elevator accidents were an all-too-common problem, and every time an elevator cable broke and people plunged to their deaths, it was reported in the newspapers.

Then, in 1854, an inventor named Elisha Otis did something ”crazy” at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in New York City. Otis built a very tall tower with no sides so that an audience could see in from all angles. Then he put an elevator inside it, gathered an audience and grabbed an axe. The Crystal Palace exhibition was a kind of World’s Fair and thousands of people watched Otis get hoisted to the top of the tower in an elevator car. When he reached the top, he waved to the crowd and chopped at the elevator cable with his axe. When the first cable snapped, the audience gasped, but he didn’t stop.

He yelled to the crowd, “You haven’t seen anything yet,” and chopped at the second cable. The second cable snapped and the elevator car began to fall. But then something remarkable happened. After falling only a few feet, the car stopped and just hung there in mid air.

Safely on the ground again, Otis told the audience, “This is what I have invented, an automatic elevator brake. As long as you see the name ‘Otis’ in the compartment, you need never be afraid to use an elevator again.” Cities all over the world began building skyscrapers, and you see the Otis name in elevators everywhere. Now you know why.

I hope you enjoyed my little history lesson. Alas, my husband's uncle died in an elevator accident, but not because a cable broke. No one knows why, but the elevator door opened, and he stepped in, but there was no car there.


  1. Hi Phyllis,
    Interesting piece of history. Every time I hear tidbits like this they intrigue, educate and sometimes amaze me. When i was critiquing a Civil war novel I discovered that the North's troops were issued among other things, Necco Wafers, I vaguely remember they were made near Boston and the confection started in the 1840s (1843?) and yes they had that weird but interesting flavor among the others, clove.

    1. Bob. Now you told me something I didn't know. Thanks.


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