Imagine a moving stairway.
At about the same time that Elisha Otis was figuring out the safety brake that would make elevators for public use practical, others were tinkering with the moving stairway contraptions that would evolve into the modern escalator.
The first escalator-like machine appeared in the mid 19th century, two years after the first passenger elevator. In 1859, Nathan Ames of the state of Michigan in the United States invented something he called Revolving Stairs, enshrined in history as US patent number 25,076, and generally acknowledged as the world’s first escalator. But Ames was unable to put the invention into practical use; he died in 1860, and in fact the thing was never built. The installation design formed an equilateral triangle that required passengers to jump on the stairway at the base and jump off at the top.
The earliest working type of escalator was patented in 1892 by Jesse W. Reno, and was actually introduced in 1896 as a novelty ride at Coney Island, a theme park in New York. Also during that decade George H. Wheeler patented a moving stairway with a moving handrail and flat steps that had to be boarded and exited from the side. Charles D. Seeberger bought Wheeler’s patent in 1898 and went to work at the Otis Elevator Company developing the first step-type moving stairway. It was Seeberger who created the name “escalator”, from the word scala (Latin for steps), and the word elevator, which was already in general use in the US by this time, and registered it as a trademark for a moving stairway.
Around the same time, moving walks made their debut, most notably in the form of special demonstration exhibitions at the Chicago Exposition of 1893 and the Paris Exposition of 1900.
Both Reno and Otis would emerge as the two driving forces behind escalator development. In 1900 Reno raised the problematic heel of the inclined wheel tread, and succeeded in the practical installation of cleat-type moving stairway in an elevated station in New York City. In that same year the Otis Company exhibited a step-type moving stairway at the Paris Exposition, and later brought them back to the US and installed them in a department store in Philadelphia. In 1911, Otis absorbed Reno and became the sole manufacturer. The company sold both step-type and cleat-type escalators and between 1900 and 1920 installed some 350 units, mainly at department stores and public transport institutions.
In the 1930s Mitsubishi Electric Corp. entered the escalator business, and began installing the devices in department stores and other major facilities in Japan. By the turn of the millennium the company has emerged at the forefront of escalator innovation and design, culminating in the spectacular multiple spiral escalator installation at the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas.