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Up, Please

By KIM BELLARD

When I think of elevator operators, I think of health care.

Now, it’s not likely that many people think about elevator operators very often, if ever.  Many have probably never seen an elevator operator.  The idea of a uniformed person standing all day in an elevator pushing buttons so that people can get to their floors seems unnecessary at best and ludicrous at worse. 

But once upon a time, they were essential, until they weren’t.  Healthcare, don’t say you haven’t been warned. 

Elevators have been around in some form for hundreds of years, and by the 19th century were using steam or electricity to give them more power, but it wasn’t until Elisha Otis debuted the safety elevator that they came into their own.  New engineering techniques such as steel frames made skyscrapers possible, but safe elevators made them feasible; no one wanted to climb stairs for 10+ stories. 

Those generations of elevators weren’t quite like the ones we’re used to.  The speed and direction had to be controlled manually, the elevator had to be carefully brought to a stop at a floor, and the doors had to be opened and closed.  Managing all this was not something that anyone wanted to entrust to passengers.  Thus the role of the elevator operator.

But, of course, technology evolved, allowing for more automation.  According to elevator engineering expert Stephen R. Nichols:

Elevator buttons were introduced in 1892, electronic signal control in 1924, automatic doors in 1948, and in 1950 the first operatorless elevator was installed at the Atlantic Refining Building in Dallas. Full automatic control and autotronic supervision and operation followed in 1962, and elevator efficiency has steadily increased in other ways.

Elevator operators gradually transitioned from being mechanical operators to concierges, helping passengers find the right floors and making them more comfortable.  A 1945 elevator operators strike in New York City had a crippling effect.  As Henry L. Greenidge, Esq. wrote on Linkedin, “The public refused to go near the controls despite having watched the operators work the levers numerous times. The thought that a layperson could operate an elevator was simply an outrageous thought.” 

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