Story behind “Escalator” Invention…

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The current Escalators took many forms for approximately 40 years on paper before its first working model. Many inventors submitted many patents of different versions and models of the Escalators.

First Form

A man from Massachusetts named Nathan Ames is credited with patenting the first escalator in 1859. Although his design got patented, no working model was ever built or manufactured using his design. He named his invention as “Revolving Stairs” and the design was much speculative with no specification for materials or potential use.

Nathan Ames
Nathan Ames’s design of “Revolving Stairs”.

Second Form

It wasn’t until 30 years later in 1889 that Leamon Souder patented his escalator-like device that used a series of steps and links jointed to each other to carry passengers between floors. However, just like Ames’ model, Souder’s was never built either. Souder would then create four more escalator-style patents, including two that were for a spiral moving staircase. Yet again, all of his detailed drawings would stay on paper and never constructed.

Leamon G Souder’s “Moving Staircase”
Leamon G Souder’s “Moving Staircase”
Leamon G Souder’s “Spiral Staircase”

Third Form

On March 15, 1892, Jesse W. Reno patented the “Endless Conveyor or Elevator”. Reno, a graduate of Lehigh University, produced the first working escalator (he actually called it the “inclined elevator”) and installed it at New York City in 1896. This particular device was little more than an inclined belt with cast-iron slats or cleats on the surface for traction and traveled along a 25° incline. A few months later, the same prototype was used for a month-long trial period on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge. Reno eventually joined forces with “OTIS Elevator Company” and retired once his patents were purchased outright.

Jesse Wilford Reno


Reno Incline Elevator
Reno Incline Elevator Design

Later Forms

George A. Wheeler patented his ideas for a more recognizable moving staircase, though it was never built. Wheeler’s patents were bought by Charles Seeberger; some features of Wheeler’s designs were incorporated in Seeberger’s prototype built by the OTIS Elevator Company in 1899. Around May 1895, Charles Seeberger began drawings on a form of escalator similar to those patented by Wheeler in 1892. This device actually consisted of flat, moving stairs, not unlike the escalators of today, except for one important detail: the step surface was smooth, with no comb effect to safely guide the rider’s feet off at the ends. Instead, the passenger had to step off sideways. To facilitate this, at the top or bottom of the escalator the steps continued moving horizontally beyond the end of the handrail (like a miniature moving sidewalk) until they disappeared under a triangular “divider” which guided the passenger to either side. Seeberger teamed with Otis in 1899, and together they produced the first commercial escalator which won the first prize at the Paris 1900 Exposition Universelle in France.

Charles Seeberger
George Wheeler

The process of developing a name for his invention was documented by Seeberger himself. Evidence of this process can be seen from Seeberger’s handwritten documents that are stored in the archive at Otis Elevator Company’s headquarters in Farmington, Connecticut. Seeberger consulted “a Latin lexicon” and “adopted as the root of the new word, ‘Scala’; as a prefix, ‘E’ and as a suffix, ‘Tor.’ “His own rough translation of the word created was “means of traversing from”. He intended for the word to be pronounced, “es‧ʹkæl‧ə‧tər” (es-CAL-a-tor).

The modern Escalator is the combined form all the inventions and defects in those inventions. Defects of the old escalators like comb effect for grip, traction issues etc were resolved which helped in the evolution of modern day Escalators.

Thank You!





  1. “The History Of The Escalator” in
  2. Wikipedia.
  3. Up the Escalator” from
  4. Patent Souces from Google Docs.


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