The History of Escalators

Don’t stand around at the top!

I shop at the Walmart Supercenter #3118 at 2525 North Decatur Road in Decatur, Georgia. The parking is below the store and then you simply take the stairs, elevator, or escalator up to the store.

If you have to roll your shopping cart to your car you are forced to take the elevators since the escalators are not working about 90% of the time. I thought I would do some research and see if I could help. The first-ever patent for an escalator in the United States was granted to Nathan Ames of Massachusetts in 1859 for his “Revolving Stairs”. Ames was an inventor, with several other patents awarded to him. This invention was largely speculative. His patent details reveal that he was vaguely unspecific about its potential use or construction materials for his invention. His idea did not come to fruition and no working prototype of his revolving stairs was ever built.

The first actual working escalator was an invention by a Massachusetts man called Jesse Reno called the “Inclined elevator”. Its patent was granted on March 15th, 1892, and the first working prototype was built in 1895. This invention was basically a steam-powered moving staircase with a height of approximately 6 feet with an inclination angle of 25 degrees and made of cast steel.

It moved with a speed of approximately 90 feet per minute. This inclined escalator was first showcased on March 15th, 1892 in Coney Island in New York, as an amusement ride that carried people up a short rise to the island’s Iron Pier.

Crowds of excited people were gathering to ride the inclined escalator. In just over a week, this amusement ride garnered over 75,000 riders. In 1897, the escalator was redesigned by Charles Seeberger. The first commercially used escalators were produced by Charles Seeberger who teamed with Otis[1] in Yonkers, New York.

A year later, in 1900, they were displayed in “Paris Exposition Universelle” in Paris, France. It won the first place award. The term “escalator” was coined by Seeberger in 1900. Both Jesse Reno and Charles Seeberger sold their manufacturing offices and patents to Otis Elevator Company in 1911. By the 1920s Otis engineers created the basic metal model of Escalators which design is in use today.

Over the years, Otis dominated the escalator business but lost the product’s trademark. The word escalator lost its proprietary status and its capital “e” in 1950 when the U.S. Patent Office ruled that the word “escalator” had become just a common descriptive term for moving stairways.

Most escalator steps range from about 32 to 40 inches in width. The top platform contains the motor assembly and the main drive gear, while the bottom holds the step return idler sprockets. These sections also anchor the ends of the escalator truss. In addition, the platforms contain a floor plate and a comb plate.

The floor plate provides a place for the passengers to stand before they step onto the moving stairs. This plate is flush with the finished floor and is either hinged or removable to allow easy access to the machinery below.

The comb plate is the piece between the stationary floor plate and the moving step. This design is necessary to minimize the gap between the stair and the landing, which helps prevent objects from getting caught in the gap. The steps themselves are solid, one-piece, die-cast aluminum.

The railing provides a convenient handhold for passengers while they are riding the escalator. It is constructed of four distinct sections. At the center of the railing is a “slider,” also known as a “glider ply,” which is a layer of cotton or synthetic textile.

The purpose of the slider layer is to allow the railing to move smoothly along its track. The next layer, known as the tension member, consists of either steel cable or flat steel tape. It provides the handrail with the necessary tensile strength and flexibility. The outer layer, the only part that passengers actually see, is the rubber cover, which is a blend of synthetic polymers and rubber.

Safety is a major concern in escalator design. Clothing can get tangled in the machinery, and children wearing certain types of shoes risk foot injuries. Fire protection of an escalator may be provided by adding automatic fire detection and suppression systems inside the dust collection and engineer pit. This is in addition to any water sprinkler system installed in the ceiling.

If the escalator is not moving it can still be used as a stairway but there are issues. The risers on the escalator are not the same as staircases and your mind will trick you, since you are used to the escalator’s normal motion, making tripping easier.

The longest freestanding (supported only at the ends) escalator in the world is inside CNN Center’s atrium in Atlanta. It rises 8 stories and is 205 ft long. Originally built as the entrance to the amusement park The World of Sid and Marty Krofft, the escalator is now used for CNN studio tours.

Central–Mid-Levels escalator, 2,600 ft in Hong Kong is the World’s longest system Tens of thousands of commuters travel each workday between Central and the Mid-Levels, a residential district over a hundred meters uphill, using this long-distance system of escalators and moving walkways. It is the world’s longest outdoor escalator system (not a single escalator span). It goes only one way at a time; the direction reverses depending on rush hour traffic direction.

The longest escalators in the world are installed in deep underground stations of the Saint Petersburg Metro (Russia). The escalators are 453 ft long and 226 feet high.

According to Guinness, the shortest escalator in the world is the “Puchicalator” in the Okadaya Mores shopping mall in Kawasaki Japan. Its vertical rise is 832 mm (32+3⁄4 in) and it has 5 steps.

Triangeln Station Escalators is an underground railway station in central Malmö in Sweden, located by St. John’s Church, close to the Triangeln (literally “The Triangle”) square, and near the neighborhood of Möllevången and Pildammsparken. The station opened in December 2010 as a part of the newly built Citytunneln along with Hyllie railway station and a new underground part of Malmö Central Station.

In most major countries, the expectation is for escalator users, wishing to stand, to keep to one side to allow others to climb past them on the other. Due to historical design purposes, riders in Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the United Kingdom,

France, and the United States are expected to stand on the right and walk on the left. However, in Australia and New Zealand, the opposite is the case. The practice may differ from city to city within countries – in Osaka, riders stand on the right, whereas in Tokyo (and most other Japanese cities), riders stand on the left.

  1. Otis is an American company that develops, manufactures, and markets elevators, escalators, moving walkways, and related equipment. Based in Farmington, Connecticut, U.S, Otis is the world’s largest manufacturer of vertical transportation systems, principally focusing on elevators, moving walkways, and escalators. The Otis Elevator Company was acquired by United Technologies in 1976, but it was spun off as an independent company 44 years later in April 2020 as Otis Worldwide Corporation. Its slogan is “Made to move you”.


La Grazia: The Grace of Motion
The Inventors
New World Encyclopedia
Elevator History

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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