In 1853 Elisha Otis climbed onto a platform which was then hoisted high above a large crowd of onlookers, nervy with anticipation. A man with an axe cut the cable, the crowd gasped, and Otis’s platform shuddered – but it did not plunge. “All safe, gentlemen, all safe!” he boomed. The city landscape was about to be turned on its head by the man who had invented not the elevator, but the elevator brake. As Tim Harford explains, the safety elevator is an astonishingly successful mass transit system which has changed the very shape of our cities.

Producer: Ben Crighton
Editors: Richard Knight and Richard Vadon

(Image: Modern Elevator, Credit: iurii/Shutterstock)

Release date:

Available now

9 minutes

Last on

Sat 15 Apr 2017 19:50 GMT
BBC World Service except East and Southern Africa, West and Central Africa

Sources and related links

David Owen - “Green Manhattan” The New Yorker 18 October 2004

Richard Florida - “The World Is Spiky” The Atlantic Monthly October 2005

Nick Paumgarten - “Up and Then Down” The New Yorker 21 April  

Kheir Al-Kodmany -  “Tall Buildings and Elevators: A Review of Recent Technological Advances” Buildings 2015, 5, 1070-1104

Burj Khalifa - The Skyscraper Center

Willis Tower - The Skyscraper Center