These Elevator Innovations Are Changing the Built Environment

The modern elevator has been around in one form or another since the 19th century, but the elevators of today look very different from the ones that existed during the days of the phonograph. Someone magically transported from late-1800s Chicago to 21st-century Dubai would scarcely recognize the machinery that now sits at the heart of every high-rise building. (He’d also have to figured out the whole “horseless carriage” deal.)

Elevators have already changed a great deal in the past 150 years. But if anything, the pace of change is accelerating. These days, some exciting elevator innovations promise to transform how we build our cities and transport people and goods. Which are you most excited about?

Carbon Fiber Ropes

Virtually all modern passenger elevators use steel cables for support and stability. Steel is a strong material that disperses energy well and doesn’t cost a fortune to procure. But it’s far from the strongest structural material in use today — and that’s a major problem for the next generation of supertall buildings. To build much higher than the world’s current record-holding skyscraper, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, we need a new type of cable material.

Enter carbon fiber cables. According to Fast Company, the KONE Corporation’s UltraRope carbon fiber cable technology “will allow skyscrapers to reach new heights, let elevators go twice as far, will last twice as long as old-school cables, and can even reduce elevator delays on windy days.”

KONE’s innovation could be key to breaking the “kilometer barrier,” the semi-theoretical building-height limit that posits skyscrapers much taller than a kilometer (just over 3,000 feet) aren’t efficient or economical under any circumstances. By allowing for longer elevator shafts and higher carrying capacities, carbon fiber cables could help ambitious builders shatter the kilometer barrier and perhaps approach the mile-high mark.

The first UltraRope elevator is now operating in Singapore; time will tell whether interest in this novel and potentially game-changing technology grows.

Cableless Elevators

Cableless elevators sound like they’ve been ripped from the pages of a science fiction novel, but they’re very real — and they’re about to enter service. The Verge reports that ThyssenKrupp is gearing up to test cableless elevators that use a magnetic propulsion system (similar to maglev trains) that reduces friction and allows for horizontal travel. Eventually, these elevators could serve as a sort of local transportation system that supplements street-level transit.

The Next Big Thing Isn’t What You Think

One of the ironclad laws of technological change goes something like this: The “next big thing” rarely turns out to be such. In the mid-19th century, everyone knew that the world of the future would be powered by steam. In the 1950s, everyone knew that miniaturized atomic power would solve the planet’s energy problems. In the 1990s, everyone knew that boxy desktop computers were here to stay.

The point is, technologies come and go, and the most lasting innovations tend to be the ones we initially overlook. So while it’s exciting and thought-provoking to peer into the future of the elevator, we need to remain humble — always mindful that we don’t know as much as we think about what’s coming down the line (or shaft).

Not Just for People: 4 Different Types of Elevators

What’s in an elevator? The answer sounds easy: cables, pulleys, winches, metal, a whole bunch of mechanical and electronic stuff…and people.

Yes, elevators carry people. Or do they? While it’s tempting to define “elevator” along the lines of “vertical people mover,” that’s actually only half the story. (Perhaps less, depending on who’s counting.) Elevators can move all kinds of things, from vehicles and machinery to grain and even liquids. In fact, some of the most productive and economically important types of elevators rarely if ever carry human cargo. Here’s a look at four different types of elevators that are both common in the modern built environment and critical to everyday commerce.

  1. Service Elevators

Though humans can and do (and often have to) ride in service elevators, they’re mostly just along for the ride. Service elevators are the heavy-duty vertical movers that keep large buildings and institutions functioning smoothly. They’re typically constructed with larger shafts to accommodate more massive cars. Depending on the elevator’s location and function, in fact, a service elevator car can have as much as twice the floor square footage as a passenger elevator and boast ceilings several feet higher.

Service elevators transport all manner of cargo. In hotels, it’s common to see service carts and furniture move from floor to floor; in offices and manufacturing facilities, bulky equipment and machinery is the norm.

  1. Car Elevators

Car elevators are heavy-duty ferriers made for carrying motor vehicles. They’re typically used in urban garages that lack the room for drive-in/drive-out configurations; condo-dwellers might use them as part of their long-term car storage routine. Some luxurious single-family homes have car elevators, too, particularly when the owner is a collector. And car elevators are used in industrial settings as well, chiefly at auto manufacturing and finishing facilities.

  1. Grain Elevators

For most folks, grain elevators are simply mysterious structures that dot rural horizons or populate gritty urban industrial zones. As agricultural production has become more efficient and less labor-intensive, many grain elevators have either been abandoned or torn down altogether. Their empty hulks are veritable playgrounds for daredevil explorers, who explore their decaying innards in search of heretofore unknown treasures.

Many grain elevators still work, though — and most perform a valuable service. The typical grain elevator is about 100 feet tall, with a ground-level loading area and roofline spout. Trucks drop off grain at the loading area, where it’s deposited into buckets that follow a vertical conveyor belt — the “elevator” component. Once the buckets reach the top, they deposit their contents into the spout, which shunts the grain into the structure’s interior. To remove the grain for commercial use, trucks or trains simply back up to the loading area and take what they need.

  1. Ore/Coal Elevators

Ore and coal elevators are dirty, grimy things that are absolutely essential to our way of life. They’re similar in principle to grain elevators — their goal is to ferry raw materials into a holding area, where they wait for further processing — but tend to be used in shipyard or railyard environments and often simply provide short-haul transportation, not long-term storage.

These aren’t the only types of elevators that aren’t made exclusively for ferrying people. What other interesting types of elevators can you think of? Examples might be closer than you realize.

New York’s Churches Get a Boost from Local Businesses

Unlike its sister cities across the pond, New York City isn’t noted for its soaring cathedrals — unless we’re talking about cathedrals of commerce — or precious neighborhood churches. In Manhattan and close-in parts of the outer boroughs, towering buildings crowd out even the most ambitious steeples.

But that doesn’t mean New York isn’t a city of churches. The metropolis’s 8.5 million residents practice every imaginable faith, gathering regularly at the call of untold thousands of bells to worship and leave their worldly troubles behind. Unfortunately, the buildings in which New York’s faithful congregate are often in a sorry state. Due to dwindling congregations and tough economic conditions, many of the city’s churches face insolvency and are unable to afford even the most basic maintenance.

A Solemn Partnership Takes Root in Brooklyn

That’s where prosperous companies like Start Elevator come in. New York City has been good to Start and its ilk, and the company resolved some years ago to give back in meaningful fashion. It found the perfect opportunity in the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, an historic structure in a working-class Brooklyn neighborhood.

According to a Start Elevator release, the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church sustained more than $500,000 in damage during Hurricane Sandy, mostly due to basement flooding. And even before the hurricane, the institution was on shaky financial ground: Beset by rising crime in the neighborhood and an aging, dwindling congregation, the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church nearly closed in the early 2010s.

In the end, rank-and-file parishioners stepped up to plug the church’s gaping financial hole before and after the hurricane — the basement, critically, is now more or less like new. But there was one project that proved frustratingly out of reach for the flock: The elevator that ferried people and supplies from the church’s main floor to its basement.

According to Start Elevator, repairing the hurricane-damaged elevator would have cost anywhere from $4,000 to $5,000, an unmanageable sum for a tapped-out congregation and near-insolvent church. So Start Elevator owner John O’Shea did what any decent person would: He offered to take on the project free of charge. Fast forward to 2015 and the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church is back on its feet — and moving comfortably from floor to floor.

“When John learned of the parish’s hardship, he realized he could do a small deed that would have a huge impact. We never asked him to fix the elevator for free, but the fact that he offered to do so shows what a good man he is. Generosity must come from the heart – from the Lord – and John genuinely cared and was very kind,” says Father Eamon Murray, the church leader.

New York City’s Business Community Can Lead by Example

Start Elevator’s partnership with a single Brooklyn church won’t revitalize the city’s storied religious building stock overnight. But it offers a clear indication that even relatively small businesses can have an outsize impact on hundreds-strong congregations — and immeasurably improve the character and vitality of the neighborhoods that host them. Here’s to a future in which successful companies like Start Elevator invest directly in historic preservation and keep their communities in touch with what matters most.

As New York Grows Upward, Start Elevator Grows With It

New York City has been on the move for nearly 400 years. The famously fast-paced metropolis attracts movers and shakers from all corners of the world, intoxicating with its entrepreneurial energy and “I can do it better” mentality. Though New York has seen plenty of ups and downs during its long history, its dynamism has never really faltered.

Today, as a global finance and innovation hub, New York City is in the midst of a nearly unprecedented building boom. Few cities pack as many souls into as small a space; Manhattan is America’s densest county by a considerable margin. New York’s famous skyscrapers seemingly multiply by the month. Who’s making sure millions of New Yorkers move rapidly and safely through the city’s vertical cathedrals?

Companies like Start Elevator do. And, like the city that demands its services, Start Elevator is growing briskly. Founded in the early 1990s as a small family outfit, the company pioneered “bootstrapping” before bootstrapping was even a thing. After years of steadily growing its revenues and client roster, Start is now a $22 million-a-year company with enough employees to fill a Manhattan penthouse to capacity. It operates across the Tri-State Area, serving clients in New Jersey and Connecticut with the same dedication as those in its historic New York City homeland.

It’s worth remembering that the Tri-State of the early 1990s was a very different place than the Tri-State of the mid-2010s. Crime was near an all-time high, with more than 2,000 murders per year in New York City alone. The economy limped along, hampered by successive crises and capital flight to less costly parts of the United States. And population growth stagnated as longtime residents followed the money (and sun) to greener, warmer pastures.

Those days are now distant memories. The region’s population and economy are booming, outpacing Sun Belt regions that once sucked money and talent out of the Northeast. Crime is way down, to levels not seen since shortly after World War II. And a more favorable regulatory regime makes it easier than ever to start and grow a business.

Perhaps that’s why Start Elevator recently took an ambitious step toward greater growth by purchasing Al-An Elevator, a family firm with nearly four decades of experience in New York City and surrounding areas. The Al-An acquisition allows Start to grow its client roster and expand its team without sacrificing the values that helped the company grow in the first place. And with things looking brighter for New York City, there’s sure to be lots of work in the years ahead.

Onward and Upward for Start Elevator

The final chapter of Start Elevator’s story has yet to be written. But just as the company’s founder never dreamed his passion project would one day extend its reach across three states and earn millions of dollars in annual revenues, it would be foolhardy to predict what’s in store for Start’s future. Only one thing is for sure: Start Elevator’s growth is proof positive that, at least in New York City, anything is possible.

5 New York Charities Proudly Supported by Start Elevator

Despite its fast-paced lifestyle and reputation for brusqueness, New York City has a thriving philanthropic community that supports virtually every worthy cause under the sun. Local companies proudly do their part to provide financial, logistical and people-powered momentum to resource-strapped organizations. In return, they enjoy the satisfaction that comes with truly making a difference.

Few small New York City businesses are more active in the charity circuit than Bronx-based Start Elevator, one of the city’s top-rated elevator construction, maintenance and repair companies. Here’s a look at five New York charities that the company has supported over the years:

  1. Ronald McDonald House

The Ronald McDonald House is a well-known charity that provides homes away from homes for thousands of families who need to travel to provide their children with medical care. Start Elevator provides in-kind donations of time and expertise for Ronald McDonald House’s numerous New York location, often fixing or maintaining elevators free of charge. Owner John O’Shea and other employees are also all too happy to donate to the charity out of their own pockets, as well as to sponsor Ronald McDonald House’s many charity events.

  1. Bottom Line

Bottom Line is a Brooklyn-based organization that provides underprivileged students with one-on-one mentorship and financial support. Its simple, admirable goal: to help kids get into and graduate from college. Start proudly participates in Bottom Line’s summer internship program, taking in bright-eyed young interns for months on end and showing them what it means to run a family business.

  1. Mount Sinai Hospital

Start Elevator supports Mount Sinai Hospital, one of New York City’s finest medical centers and a legitimate champion of innovative children’s medicine, through its work with Ronald McDonald House. The company has done work around Mount Sinai’s main Manhattan campus and boasts close ties to the institution’s provider network.

  1. Children’s Hospital at Montefiore

The compassionate practitioners at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore work tirelessly to treat rare and complex childhood disorders, often against great odds. The entire Start team understands the solemnity of Montefiore’s mission and stands ready to help the institution however it can.

  1. Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church

Brooklyn’s Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church isn’t a traditional nonprofit, but it was in dire need of assistance after Hurricane Sandy. The ravaged church couldn’t afford to fix its mission-critical elevator, which ferried people and supplies from the basement to the main levels. Start Elevator stepped into the literal breach, fixing the machine free of charge. According to a press release from the company, the repair would have cost as much as $5,000 at going rates. Start was all too happy to shoulder the burden and help a proud institution get moving once more.

If you own a business in New York City, why not consider donating your time and resources to one or all of these fine organizations? After all, we’re ultimately judged by our deeds, not the numbers in our bank account statements.

Elevators Are Becoming Your Biggest Ally In a Multi-Story Catastrophe

Most of us not only use elevators every day, but we can’t live without them. The option to ride the steel beast to our jobs or apartments can mean the difference between having the time to stop for breakfast and being forced to eat stale office doughnuts. We depend on them and when they malfunction it feels like the end of the world.

Our history has tragically shown that having an effective escape plan in place is crucial when an elevator is a part of your daily doings. So why are we told in an emergency to avoid elevators when in fact your chances are actually better inside the elevator than out of it?

Documented cases of people opting for the elevator over the stairs have ended favorably. This was especially so in the case of fire. The elevator is the faster way down and for some the only way down. For some handicapped people it is essential to their way of life. In an emergency an elevator is their only course of action. Our world needs to evolve to accommodate our growing need. Our dependency on elevators will only escalate.

It isn’t an uncommon notion to believe that elevators should be utilized more as an escape route from tragedy. With knowledge comes change. Now that engineers are aware of the benefits of using elevators instead of steering clear; changes are underway. That little sign placed beside every elevator you’ve ever used will cease to exist. You won’t be told to use the stairs in case of emergency for too much longer.


With events like 9/11 in our memory, practices have begun to build more disaster friendly elevators. Most notably are the service cars in the new World Trade Center. These elevators will be used to bring people down to safety in the case of an emergency. This would also minimize the trampling that can lead to fatalities when massive amounts of people are all raging down several flights of stairs.

It’s not a quandary why elevators have not advanced in emergency methods beyond a bright little button that may or may not work when you need it to. Every elevator manufacturer should have an escape route designed for their particular model. It’s not enough to just ride people up and down a building all of the time anymore. Newer elevators should minimize the possibility of mechanical malfunctions, electrical fires and cable corrosion that can lead to fatal outcomes. They should also minimize the potential harm from man-made chaos.

Whatever the cause may be, an escape route should be factored into every design. The problem is cost. Putting in a brand new state of the art disaster free elevator will be costly. Replacing existing elevators are even more expensive and unlikely. Being that elevator companies have neglected to address this safety issue properly, it’s best to have your own plan in place. It will take time, but eventually disaster built elevators will be the majority and each elevator will be the first response to evacuating a disaster stricken building.

From Moveable Room To Gossip Shop: How Elevators Changed America

The skylines of every city in the world would look very different today were it not for the simple expedient of vertical transport. Elevators inaugurated the era of skyscrapers and rescued the world from the blight of urban sprawl. Without elevators, the modern metropolis would not exist, and yet they have been largely overlooked in the cultural history of America.

Nowhere To Go But Up

American inventor Elisha Graves Otis patented the first passenger-safe elevator in 1853. Steam-powered and manually operated, by 1873 more than 2,000 Otis elevators were in use across America, mostly in office buildings, luxury hotels and department stores. These early elevators were designed as “moveable rooms,” with chandeliers, carpeting, benches and uniformed operators. As elevators became more ubiquitous and the novelty of vertical transport wore off, they gradually shed their Gilded Age charm.

Like elevators got their start in New York. The Panic of 1873 and a real estate crunch in lower Manhattan caused city planners to consider packing up Wall Street and moving it uptown to escape the sprawl. Instead of moving out, however, Wall Street moved up. Henry Hyde, the founder of one of the country’s largest insurance firms, installed two elevators in his headquarters, and built what was—at seven stories and 130 feet—the tallest structure in New York at the time. Hyde’s record didn’t last long. The electric elevator was invented in 1880 by Ernst Werner Siemens, the founder of the eponymous German industrial conglomerate.

Siemen’s electric elevators combined with steel building frames to surpass vertical limits and inaugurate the age of the “skyscraper.” As technology improved, the record for the world’s tallest building would be shattered again and again.

The Sky’s The Limit

Elevators not only changed the urban landscape: they also left an indelible mark on American language and culture. The idea of “claustrophobia,” the fear of enclosed spaces and having no escape, was born inside the elevator. Early hydraulic elevators caused doctors to worry about “elevator sickness,” the nausea and disorientation caused by the jolt of sudden stops.

The rich have always sought higher ground, but elevators cemented the association between altitude and opulence. “The sky’s the limit” entered the American lexicon in 1920, and “living the high life” shortly thereafter. The wealthy went from the ground floor to the “penthouse,” a word that took on its contemporary meaning in 1921. The phrase “up-and-coming” first came into usage in 1926, synonymous with success and “upward” social mobility.

The elevator has been a fountain of idioms, a trope of fiction and an iconic setting for unexpected or awkward encounters between strangers. Douglas Adams gave elevators personalities in his “Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy” novels, imbuing them with as many foibles and idiosyncrasies as their occupants. As a cultural icon, however, the elevator has been the victim of its own success.

There is no way to remove the rush of acceleration during takeoff, the whir of scenery on a train ride, or all the inherent dangers of an automobile, but innovations have made riding an elevator an almost imperceptible experience. The safety and efficiency of modern elevators has made it easy not to notice them, and yet America as we know it would not exist without them.

Are you Breaking Any Elevator Etiquette Rules?

Every day, thousands of people ride elevators. It can be an uncomfortable few minutes if you are stuck with someone who is rude or who is scared of elevators. Make sure you are not the problem by following these rules of elevator etiquette.

  1. While you are waiting. As you wait for the elevator, make sure you stand to your right as you face the elevator. This allows plenty of room for the people on the elevator to exit before you try to get on and prevents anyone from bumping into each other.
  1. Stepping off and then back on. If an elevator arrives and is not crowded, enter and go to the back corners. All of the corners should be filled first so new riders have an easier time getting on. If the elevator is crowded, the people closest to the door should step off at each floor and hold the door for others to exit. If you are one to step off and are going to a much higher floor, try to work your way to the back of the elevator so you are not in everyone else’s way as they try to get off the elevator.
  1. Who pushes the buttons. If you happen to be the person closest to the panel of buttons, you have a job to do. Each time someone gets on, smile and ask them what floor they need. This keeps everyone from reaching around each other to push buttons. If there are two button panels, whoever is more outgoing can have the official button pusher job.
  1. Carrying large bags. Everyone has times when they are carrying huge bags or packages when they are on an elevator. The best thing to do is place the bags on the floor near your feet because legs are narrower than the rest of your body. When it is time for you to get off, carry the bags as low as possible.
  1. Be polite. Your parents taught you to say please and thank you. Being polite in an elevator can go a long way in making your ride more enjoyable. If someone holds the door or pushes the button, say thank you. When you get on, tell the person who is pushing the floor button your floor number and say please. Some people will not respond to your politeness and that’s ok. You know you did what was right.
  1. Talking. Most people go into a zone when they get on an elevator. You can smile and say “good morning” as you enter, but don’t be offended if no one answers back. If you are with someone when you get on the elevator, talk quietly to each other or wait until you are off the elevator before you continue the conversation. Most cell phones will not keep a signal on an elevator, but if yours happens to keep working, wait until you are alone to continue your conversation.
  1. Wait for another car. If the elevator arrives and is full, wait for the next one. It is so rude to crowd onto the car. If you are truly in a hurry, take the stairs instead of waiting for the next one.

Elevator etiquette does not have to be hard. Be polite and friendly to the other riders and you won’t have to worry about being the one no one wants to ride with.

Elevator Business Boom Predicted

Business analysts, along with the Bureau of Labor, foresee a steady climb in the need for elevator technicians. Some estimates put the growth at a staggering 25 percent a year until 2022. With more and more high-rise buildings going up all the time and all of the innovations happening worldwide, this is hardly surprising.

To get started, aspiring entrepreneurs should check out the market in the city where they wish to begin. From there, it’s easy to make a decision about starting one’s own business to franchising a larger company or even taking over an existing company. Even though it might take a while, having a coherent plan in place is essential and makes the process as smooth as possible.

Warning to Elevator Surfers: Stay in the Car

In today’s world of adrenaline-pumping extreme sports and a culture that discourages boredom, some people are turning to new pastimes that dangerous enough to get them killed. Elevator surfing, where a passenger climbs on top of an elevator car and rides it up and down, is one such activity.

Why is it dangerous? Anyone on top of the car doesn’t know which floor called the car. If it just happened to be the top floor, it will be undoubtedly fatal. Also, many elevators save both money and wear and tear by using large counterweights that ride along tracks on the walls of the shaft. The counterweights move at least as fast as the elevator itself and will shear off body parts that get too close to them.