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.