December 6, 2016

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Otis Elevators

1912 otis elevator ad

To prove his product was safe – he had to demonstrate it with danger.

Sometimes it’s not the product that counts – its how you demonstrate it.

This inventor came up with one of the safest forms of transportation ever invented — the elevator. Actually “The Safety Elevator.”

Elevators already existed when Elisha Graves Otis came arrived on the scene. Businesses used elevators to haul freight in warehouses, mining and other industries. The boxes just weren’t considered safe for people.  And for good reason. Ropes and cables frequently broke, and elevator cars went crashing down shafts to the ground.

Otis came up with a solution – an “Improvement in Hoisting Apparatus Elevator Brake” – an automatic spring operated brake system. If it sensed cable tension going slack, it would trigger a series of brakes to stop the elevator in its tracks. And in test after test, it worked perfectly — but Otis found few customers  willing to risk it with people.

To prove its worth, Otis orchestrated a dramatic product demonstration – arguably the world’s first “killer demo.”  He constructed an open elevator shaft four stories tall at New York’s Crystal Palace Exposition – the 1854 World’s Fair.

While riding atop the elevator car, being hoisted aloft, Otis surprised a crowd by ordering an attendant to cut the cable with an ax. He did. The crowd gasped. But instead of crashing to the ground, the elevator dropped a few inches — and stopped.

“All safe, gentlemen!” Otis proclaimed.

That product demonstration launched the passenger elevator business.  Otis installed a steam-powered passenger elevator in a five-story department store owned by E.W Haughtwhat of Manhattan — the world’s first public elevator.

Otis was on his way up. And the company he founded would dominate the new industry for the next century and a half!

Historians credit Otis’s invention with the rise of the sky scraper – and making today’s high-rise living possible. Today, the Otis company is part of United Technologies. It has 2.5 million elevators and escalators (both originally trademarked names) operating in 200 countries.

Elisha Otis exemplifies an axiom featured on our websiteThink Unique. To prove his product was perfectly safe, he had to demonstrate it with danger. The Otis Safety Elevator. Now why didn’t I think of that?

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