The sky’s the limit for maglev elevators

With the official public opening of the One World Observatory at One World Trade Center in New York City scheduled for Friday, we got to thinking about elevators …

In 1853 at the New York World’s Fair at New York’s Crystal Palace, a 40-year-old American inventor and businessman named Elisha Otis stood on a hoisting platform high above a crowd of spectators anxiously awaiting his presentation. Otis’s next move would be a death-defying feat that would literally change city skylines forever.

Elisha Graves Otis shows his first elevator in the Crystal Palace, New York City, 1853. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Elisha Graves Otis shows his first elevator in the Crystal Palace, New York City, 1853. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Like a magician, Otis astonished the crowd by ordering an axman to cut the only rope that was suspending the platform on which he was standing. The platform fell just a few inches and then froze still, as if suspended in midair. “All safe, gentlemen,” he emphatically exclaimed as people applauded loudly. Otis had successfully demonstrated how his revolutionary new elevator safety brake could prevent an elevator from falling to the Earth if the hoisting cable unexpectedly broke. His ingenious creation allowed for the debut of passenger elevators and safer travel inside multi-floored buildings, but just as importantly it pushed the boundaries of architecture into the blue and paved the way for the construction of modern skyscrapers and cities.

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