Any building in Chicago taller than, say, five stories usually has an elevator—and often, new buildings of even three stories have an elevator. If you live in a high rise co-op or condo building on Lake Shore Drive or elsewhere in Chicagoland, chances are that you use an elevator every day.
Chances are also that you don’t give much thought to it, and when you look at the inspection report posted inside the elevator cab, you don’t spend much time analyzing it. Yet, elevators are essential to any mid-rise or high-rise apartment building. See how upset people are when their elevator is out of service for even a few hours!
In the Beginning
There have been elevator-like hoist devices throughout history, but in 1853, American inventor Elisha Otis invented a freight elevator equipped with a safety device to prevent the elevator from falling in case a cable broke. This advancement paved the way for elevators to become commonplace in commercial and then residential buildings.
While the first passenger elevator was installed in a New York City department store, Chicago had a steam elevator installed in 1864 at the Charles B. Farwell store on North Wabash Avenue, followed in 1870 by C.W. Baldwin, who invented and installed the first hydraulic elevator in a store building for Burley & Company on West Lake Street.
The first passenger elevator for residential buildings came into general use around 1877, but before World War I, elevators were still fairly rare and confined to upscale apartment houses, prestigious office buildings and fancy department stores. Many of the elevators of that period resembled luxurious drawing rooms, with small couches, wood paneling and uniformed operators.