Beautiful New York

A Celebration of the City

The Top 100 Greatest New Yorkers — #2

Elisha Graves Otis (1811 – 1861)


Without skyscrapers, there would be no New York City as we know it today. Without passenger elevators, there would be no skyscrapers. And without Elisha Graves Otis, there would be no passenger elevators. The grand, vertical skyline of our city – and every city – owes its existence to Otis. Elevators had existed for years before Otis, but were only used for freight, the fear of a broken cable sending passengers plummeting to their deaths preventing anyone from setting foot in such a machine. With Otis’ demonstration of his newly invented safety break at the Crystal Palace exhibition of 1854 (in what is now Bryant Park), the age of building upward had arrived. Many buildings that have held the title of tallest in the world, including the Woolworth Building, the Empire State Building, and the Twin Towers, have used Otis elevators to bring their inhabitants to the lofty heights for which the city has become known. And in Soho, the Houghwought Building where Otis installed his very first safety elevator still stands. Though no longer accessible to the public, the elevator still runs.


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