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Manhattan Elevator History

If the elevator had never been invented, it is safe to say that the New York Skyline would look astronomically different. What most people don’t realize is that the elevator changed more than just the way that the city looked. Before the invention of the elevator the highest building was only 6 stories simply because that was the highest staircase that anyone would agree to climb. Most neighborhoods were filled with small bodegas and single family homes with a very small town vibe from borough to borough. This pre-elevator time in Manhattan was drastically different because the neighborhood was actually a neighborhood, everyone on the block knew each other’s names and stories. When you walked down the sidewalk there wasn’t a strange face, comparing that to a modern New York City sidewalk makes that scenario hard to believe. Although the neighborhood feel dissipated with the regular installation of elevators, the social landscape of the city changed and along with it a new, exciting culture was born in the island of Manhattan.

In 1857 Elisha Graves Otis revolutionized the world as we knew it and installed the first ever passenger elevator in a 5-story department store in New York City. This revolutionary advance in technology was only possible due to Otis’ invention of the safety brake in 1852. Once the first passenger elevators were proven safe to ride buildings quickly doubled in size and skyscrapers 12 stories high began to pop up spanning down the Manhattan skies. Not only did the city begin to look drastically different but the sidewalks were also changed. Instead of streets lined with single family homes and small businesses there were 12 floor apartment buildings and gargantuan skyscrapers housing corporate offices that harbored hundreds of outsiders that commuted into the city. All of a sudden the streets were lined with strangers and the neighborhoods had turned into metropolitan meccas.

Before elevators made climbing stairs easy, the rooftop quarters were mainly servants quarters or attic apartments reserved for the poor. With the evolution of hydraulic lift technology the top floors became decadent and reserved for the elite. The chic rooftop bar and luxurious penthouse suite were born as the skyline continued to rise making a good view a luxury reserved for the wealthy. This new infusion in Manhattan created a world where elevators were a staple, now there isn’t a building on the NYC island that doesn’t have an elevator installed inside. With out the invention of the elevator Manhattan wouldn’t have evolved into the iconic place that it is today.