This Week in Business History Episode 8

“All safe, gentlemen, all safe.”

-Elisha G. Otis, at the introduction of the Safety Elevator in 1852

The ‘This Week in Business History’ Series on Supply Chain Now shares some of the most relevant business and global supply chain events from years past. It will shine a light on some of the most significant leaders, companies, innovations, and even lessons learned from our collective business history.

This week we introduce you to Elisha Otis, chronic tinkerer and inventor, responsible for the invention of the safety hoist elevator, the basis for the modern safety elevator.

Scott Luton (00:11):


Scott Luton (00:12):

Good morning, Scott Luton here with you on this edition of this week in business history. Welcome to today’s show on this program, which is part of the supply chain. Now family of programming. We take a look back at the upcoming week, and then we share some of the most relevant events and milestones from years past, of course, mostly business focused with a little dab global supply chain. And occasionally we might just throw in a good story outside of our primary realm. So I invite you to join me on this. Look back in history to identify some of the most significant leaders, companies, innovations, and perhaps lessons learned in our collective business journey. Now let’s dive in to this week in business history.

Scott Luton (01:11):

Hello, and thanks for joining us. I’m your host Scott Luton. And today we’re focused on the week of August 3rd. Today, we’re going to dive into a story of a true tireless innovator and entrepreneur that made a huge impact on the world. And especially its architecture today. Stay tuned and join me. As we dive into the story of Elijah Otis and the elevator learn what motivated him to find a way to change the world all by making elevators or lifts, depending on where you are listening reliably safe. That’s what we’ll focus on today. On this week in business history, powered by our team here at supply chain. Now on August 3rd, 1811, Elisha graves Otis was born in Halifax, Vermont. It’s a small town in South Vermont, about two and a half hours West of Boston. His father Steven Otis had been a farmer, a justice of the peace and the legislator from the beginning though, Otis like tinker with things, gristmills saw mills wagons, carriages, you name it.

Scott Luton (02:20):

Otis love to build tweak, invent all sorts of mechanical things, but he did not like school. And he wasn’t crazy about farming at the age of 19. And with his father’s blessing, Elijah Otis would leave home and school without having graduated from high school Otis rather chose to join his brother Chandler in the construction industry. This would take Otis to Troy New York, a town about 70 miles West of Halifax. Vermont, Troy was founded near the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk rivers. Its geographic location was of the factors that made it a hustling and bustling city on the move. Back in the early 19th century, the industrial revolution would really take root in the city of Troy. This will be a perfect setting for the notorious mechanical tinkerer, Elisha Otis right away. His ability to invent and innovate made an impact. He would design a hoist system that would make it easier for his brother’s construction business to move materials between several stories of buildings.

Scott Luton (03:30):

Otis would prove to make things better just about everywhere he worked, but love and marriage would intervene. He would marry Susan Hoffman in 1834 and they’d have two sons in the next few years to make a living and provide for his family. Otis would try a variety of things from transporting goods to building and running a saw mill to manufacturing, wagons, and carriages. None of them quite hit the Mark improved highly successful. Unfortunately, his wife Susan would die in 1842 leaving Otis with two small boys. And after a bout with pneumonia, which almost killed him, Otis would remarry and move the family to Albany New York. The capital of the empire state and Albany Otis would work for Oh, Tingley and company. What her name? Oh, Tingley and company, a furniture manufacturer, and right away Otis would make an innovative impact. He invented an automated woodworking machine that significantly improved productivity, always having wanted to work for himself.

Scott Luton (04:37):

Otis founded a company and invented a couple of inches devices, including a safety break to be used in the railroad industry. It reportedly allowed conductors to stop a train in its tracks. In fact, Otis would later patent several railroad car trucks and brakes in 1852 Otis would also design an automatic bread oven and would later patent a bake oven in 1858. For that matter, despite his disdain for farming Otis would patent a steam plow in 1857, but destiny would intervene and Otis his business was closed due to losing access to power at his factory. Interestingly enough, Otis was using a small stream for hydro power and the local municipal authority would divert that stream for drinking water purposes. How’s that for bad luck, everything would change for Otis and business history. In 1852 Otis was now in Yonkers, New York, having moved on to another furniture manufacturer, a company called maze and burns.

Scott Luton (05:43):

As I amaze was growing his company rapidly furniture making was hard, but furniture delivery in the big city was even harder. Imagine trying to deliver a piano or couch to a four story apartment. I don’t know about you. My mind instantly goes to a three Stooges episode, except this was not funny. A lot of workers would get hurt moving in delivering furniture, enter Elisha graves, Otis who is inspired and driven to make things better. He designed and implement a safety hoist. This would be an elevator that had a safety device included. So if the lifting chain or rope broke, the elevator wouldn’t come crashing to the ground. He would make an insert tooth wooden guardrails into opposite sides of the elevator shaft odors within install a spring to the top of the elevator and run the hoisting cables through it. If the cables broke, it calls a spring mechanism to shoot outward into the notches, preventing the cabin from falling.

Scott Luton (06:44):

Now, this was revolutionary. It’s important to note that elevators have been used since at least two 36 BC, where the first elevator was supposedly designed by Greek mathematician. Archimedes early elevators were powered by humans, animals or even water. In fact, in ancient Rome, just below the Coliseum, there was an underground collection of rooms, animal pins, and tunnels as needed elevators would bring gladiators and large animals up to the arena. These Roman elevators hoists really were powered by hundreds of men and utilized winches and counterweights fast forward to the industrial revolution. Elevators were used extensively in the coal mining industry, but not so much for people because of the unreliability and the significant safety issue. You know, it’s one thing to drop a load of coal. It’s a whole nother thing that dropped a dozen people. Several stories, Otis his new invention worked well, but like many of his past innovations Otis was pleased.

Scott Luton (07:51):

Just let his employer enjoy the fruits of his labor. Otis took great satisfaction in solving a tremendous issue that had hurt and threatened countless workers. But the more he thought about its various applications, the more Otis wanted to introduce it to the entire world. In 1853, Elijah graves Otis and his two sons would form union elevator and general machine works company on September 20th, 1853, 42 year old Otis would for the first time sell the product that would carve his name and history and change the world. That’s right. He’d sell his first safety elevator, which would be used to move freight, but sales weren’t brisk. In fact, they were few and far between, and that made Toms tough for Otis and his family. If only Otis had a bigger platform to help get the word out about his invention in 1853, if you wanted to get the word out, one of the premier venues was the world fair.

Scott Luton (08:58):

The first world’s fair would take place in London from 1850 to 1851. And it was a hit thus inter serendipity stage, right? As Elijah graves, Otis would be very fortunate to have a world’s fair taking place right around the corner in New York city called the exhibition of the industry of all nations. What a name it would run from July, 1853 through November, 1854. It take place in what is now Bryant park in New York city smack dab in the middle of Midtown Manhattan. It would kick off on July 14th, 1853 with the new president Franklin Pierce in attendance over 1 million attendees would show up over the course of a Tron. The world’s fair that year would have a wide variety of attractions, but it’s remembered chiefly for one big program. Lasha Otis is introduction of the safety elevator, perhaps inspired by as contemporary. The one and only PT Barnum Otis would make quite a spectacle at the world’s fair in May, 1854 Otis would draw a huge crowd as he rode his elevator up several stories high in the sky, and then with a dramatic act that would certainly make PT.

Scott Luton (10:16):

Barnum green with envy odors would have the lift rope cut by an ax far below him, but instead of crashing to his death, the elevator safety apparatus sprung in action and it locked the platform in place astonishing the crowd. And I bet it relieved one Elijah Otis who just might have had his eyes closed the whole time. Otis announced to the crowd, quote, all safe gentlemen, all safe and quote. If one could truly go viral in 1854, Otis had just gone viral on March 23rd, 1857. He’d installed the first safety elevator for passenger service in the store in New York city. That story asked Evie hallway and company Otis also invented the leveling device that we’ve all noticed and waited impatiently to kick in as elevator arrives at a particular floor in 1861, Otis would patent a steam engine for elevator use. His innovative mind just never stopped until April 8th, 1861 when only 49 years old, that theory would take his life.

Scott Luton (11:29):

But on the bright side, Elijah graves Otis had indeed contributed an invention to the world that would change life and business. As we know it, skylines would change very quickly. Meaning mega cities, his sons, Charles and Norton would go on to build on their father’s legacy. Union elevator and general machine works company would be renamed Otis elevator company, which is why once we all returned to our somewhat normal routines, you’ll see the word Otis in many, if not most of the elevators you step into in 1867, the company would build a factory in Yonkers, New York, the company boomed during the American civil war, a surge in the need to move war materials is a good thing. If you were in the elevator business, by the 1880s, the company had established offices in London and Paris. Even the Eiffel tower had Otis elevators installed true to its founder.

Scott Luton (12:29):

Spirit growth never slowed the company’s constant innovation escalators, automatic elevators, double deck elevators, you name it. The company invented it throughout the late 19th and 20th century in 1976, United technologies corporation acquired Otis elevator company. And what was described by many as a hostile takeover criticized by many external analysts at the time, Otis was a boon for United technologies corporation Otis worldwide corporation, as it’s known today has grown to be a large public company with over 13 billion revenue and over 69,000 employees, it was recently spun off as an independent company in April, 2020 Otis worldwide corporation is traded on the New York stock exchange under the ticker symbol. You guessed it Otis. The company is based in Farmington, Connecticut, about 90 miles South of where Alaska graves Otis was born in Halifax, Vermont on October nine, 2017, Judy Marks was named president and CEO of Otis. Marx says, quote, people make a decision every day about what kind of work they’re going to do.

Scott Luton (13:49):

That’s what I love about Otis people. They know that what we do matters across 200 countries and territories. We service 2 million units and touch 2 billion people every day to keep the world moving in, quote from a Lasha graves, Otis, his dog had determination to always find a better way and instill confidence in his products, all to a global company that the world has come to trust and depend on skyscrapers are only going taller. And elevator technology is really what builds the art of the possible. When it comes to just how ambitious we can be, that wraps up our look at the week ahead from a business history standpoint, the entrepreneur that built the elevator that the world could trust. That story really stood out to us. But what do you think there were certainly no shortage of big stories during the week of August 3rd in business history.

Scott Luton (14:52):

What stands out to you? Tell us, shoot us a note to Amanda at supply chain. Now We are here to listen. I hope you’ve enjoyed our latest edition of this week in business history focused on the week of August 3rd on that note, be sure to check out a wide variety of industry thought leadership at supply chain. Now find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts from a friendly reminder, you can now find this week in business history, wherever you get your podcasts from based on all the feedback we’ve received. Our team here at supply chain now chose to create its own channel search for it. Wherever you get your regular podcasts from on behalf of the entire team here at this week in business history and supply chain. Now this is Scott Luton wishing all of our listeners, nothing but the best do good give forward and be the change that’s needed. And on that note, we’ll see you next time on this week in business history. Thanks for bye

Scott Luton (16:04):


Scott W. Luton is the founder & CEO of Supply Chain Now. He has worked extensively in the end-to-end Supply Chain industry for more than 15 years, appearing in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Dice and Quality Progress Magazine. Scott was named a 2019 Pro to Know in Supply Chain by Supply & Demand Executive and a 2019 “Top 15 Supply Chain & Logistics Experts to Follow” by RateLinx. He founded the 2019 Atlanta Supply Chain Awards and also served on the 2018 Georgia Logistics Summit Executive Committee. He is a certified Lean Six Sigma Green Belt and holds the APICS Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) credential. A Veteran of the United States Air Force, Scott volunteers on the Business Pillar for VETLANTA and has served on the boards for APICS Atlanta and the Georgia Manufacturing Alliance. Follow Scott Luton on Twitter at @ScottWLuton and learn more about Supply Chain Now here:


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