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In this episode of Make: Inventions I build an elevator and reenact the death-defying stunt that Elisha Otis performed at the 1854 World’s Fair.
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Otis had invented a safety brake for elevators, but couldn’t find any buyers. Everyone knew that elevators were only for cargo and were too dangerous for people to ride. To prove that his invention was safe he built a four story elevator and boarded his car in front of curious attendants. When he reached the top his assistant cut the rope with an ax. The crowd looked on as his elevator fell only a couple inches — and stopped.

In this video I show how I built one of Otis’s original safety elevators and then see if it will keep me safe when the rope lets go.

This video features patent #31,128 “Improvement in Hoisting Apparatus”  by Elisha Otis

See all projects in the series here.

Steve Hoefer

Steve Hoefer is a creative swashbuckler, freelance writer and inventor. He regularly contributes projects to the pages of MAKE and his inventions have appeared internationally on TV, radio, and print. He lives on his family farm in Iowa.


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