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Source: French Lift Association

As far back as the Egyptians?

Although Roman architect Vitruvius attributes the discovery of the winch to Archimedes in the year 236 BC, it seems that the construction of the pyramids in Egypt (approx. 3000 BC) could not be achieved without such a device. The winch was a wonderful invention: with the pulley, it changed the direction of effort, and with the rope, it could multiply indefinitely the number of workers lifting a weight. The use of a large number of lifters being not always practical, a solution had to be found to reduce tensile stress. The Romans are most likely those who solved this difficult problem.

Circus machines

To satisfy their passion for games, the Romans built circuses whose machinery was very complex, enabling the creation of games scenes to rival the majority of our modern theatres. Gladiators had the honour of cabins hoisted by a capstan, pulleys and ropes system. In the Roman Coliseum and the Palace of the Caesars, archaeologists found vertical ducts corresponding, presumably, to the installation of counterweight goods lifts. With or without counterweights, hoisting systems will become increasingly widespread over the centuries to transport ever heavier loads, ever higher.

The counterweight

Counterweights can significantly reduce the tensile stress needed to lift a load. In physical terms, it should be recalled here that the work involved in raising the load (W ') is offset by the work involved in lowering the counterweight (W "), the resulting work (W) is null (except in terms of friction). There is also the need to overcome inertia when starting and kinetic energy when braking. The general principle of the elevator as we know it today was born!

In Versailles, chairs fly!

Until the Renaissance, the evolution of construction techniques and freight were to multiply lifting systems (winches, windlasses with return pulleys, hydraulic lifts, and swivel cranes). The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw the emergence of new ideas and above all a new need: the transport of passengers. The "flying chair", a sort of sedan chair suspended from a rope and balanced by a counterweight, made its appearance at Versailles to "transport" Madame de Pompadour from her apartments to those of her royal lover. But its movement was ensured by arm-operated traction, which was not highly practical ... or very safe. It was not until the nineteenth century that we would motorize the system to achieve the modern passenger or goods lift.

Water and steam ahead!

In the nineteenth century, several types of energy were used in lifting equipment, including, in particular, water power and steam. Steam operated the cable via pulleys. At long last, Man had only to operate a lever to lift the heaviest loads. We were thus able to build factories and buildings, and to delve deeper underground to extract wealth from the subsoil. But accidents were so plentiful, due to the breakage of cables, that each trip was not without its risks. It was then that an American had a great idea...

A safety gear to stop falls!

In 1853, the American Elisha Graves Otis, master mechanic, developed the safety gear system designed to "catch" cars when cables broke. He demonstrated the system at an exhibition in the lobby of the Crystal Palace exhibition hall in New York. This revolutionary system opened up the possibility of vertically transporting people. In March 1857, the inventor installed the first device for public use in the china shop E. U. Haughtwout and Co., five storeys high. With a capacity of 450 kg and activated by a steam engine, it reached a speed of 0.2 meters per second. The device had no name. A Frenchman coined the term in 1867.

The end of the pioneering era

In 1867, Leon Edoux presented, at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, two hydraulic lifts for the transport of materials on worksites. He called them "ascenseurs" (lifts). For the Universal Exhibition of 1878, he installed a hydraulic lift on one of the towers of the Palais du Trocadéro, allowing the transport of 80 passengers to a height of 60 meters, at a speed of 1.10 meters per second. In 1880, Werner Siemens and Hulstie presented the first electric elevator at the Industrial Exhibition in Mannheim. This unit rose to 22 meters in 11 seconds. The pioneering era thus ended in style. Inseparable from modern life, elevators went on to become more reliable and more comfortable.

Modern times

  • At the start of the century, sky-scrapers began making their appearance in the United States. From the end of the nineteenth century, the United States were quick to understand that lifts enabled architects to aim high. In 1902 in New York with the "Flat Iron", they launch an era of sky-scrapers.
  • In France, a prestigious architectural element
  • The 50s: reconstruction and industrialisation
  • The 60s-70s: the era of large housing projects
  • The 80s: electronic chips are everywhere and architecture is back in the game
  • The 90s: progress for all. Ever faster, safer and more comfortable, lifts today manage the unforeseeable thanks to micro-computing. Today's smart lifts enhance optimal traffic and make it smoother. Car evolutions offer better physical and psychological conditions for users.

The future of lifts

At the dawn of the new millennium, lift professionals drive their permanent search for development along three main avenues:

  • lifts for all (even in buildings with only two or three floors, even in individual houses), communicating with its passengers and the outside, made more human with decorations and innovations making the short trip even more pleasant.
  • among all the technical progress that undoubtedly left its mark on the industry at the start of the new millennium, the greatest innovations remain the machine-room-less lifts and remote monitoring of lifts.
  • remote monitoring: remote alarm or remote monitoring systems make it possible for a person trapped in the car to call the quick help service and to receive information until the arrival of the technician on site.