Think About It

Take the Steps

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | August 13, 2011

"The elevator to success is out of order. You'll have to use the stairs one step at a time."
Joe Girard

The other morning, I was walking across our campus to my office and I encountered one of our employees, Gary, who had someone with him I did not know. "Have we met before?" I asked him to which he replied, "No, I'm George, the man who inspects the elevators." 

Immediately my curiosity was piqued because I had never met an elevator inspector before. My mind filled with questions. I soon learned that he inspects our college elevators every six (6) months. It only takes him about 10 minutes for each one. 

George lives just around the corner from us in the village of Kimberton. "I love what I do," he said referring to the actual inspection task as well as his travels all over southeastern Pennsylvania. 

"When you step inside an elevator do you check the inspection sticker?" I asked him. His answer surprised me. "I don't usually ride elevators. Most often, I take the steps. It helps me maintain my good health." 

Years ago George was extremely claustrophobic and he couldn't bring himself to ride an elevator for any reason. So, he asked a friend to join him and together they went to downtown Philadelphia where for an hour they rode up and down a skyscraper elevator. After a week or so of repeating this, he continued for another week all by himself and finally he had dealt with his fear of elevators. 

There is one elevator, however, which still gives him claustrophobia and he will not ride in it. "It's located at a Roman Catholic diocese not far from here," he said. "It is hardly large enough for one man. In fact, the priest got stuck in it three times. That one, I won't get in." 

The first reference to an elevator in antiquity is in the works of the Roman architect Vitruvius, who reported that Archimedes built his first elevator probably in 236 BC. Ancient and medieval elevators use drive systems based on hoists and winders. In 1852, Elisha Otis introduced the safety elevator, which prevented the fall of the cabin if the cable broke. 

Today elevators have multiple purposes in addition to moving passengers up and down. Freight elevators move goods. Stage lifts move entire sections of a theater stage. Cars, boats and aircraft are moved from one level to another for parking, storage, and flight readiness on aircraft carriers. Even homes and restaurants use them for domestic and commercial purposes. 

Did you know that elevators are 25 times safer than escalators? There are 20 times more elevators than escalators, but only 1/3 more accidents. 

Did you know elevators are safer than cars? An average of 26 people die in elevators each year in the U.S. There are 26 car deaths every five hours. Most people who die in elevators are elevator technicians. 

Did you know that the Otis Elevator Company carries the equivalent of the world's population in their elevators every five days? And, due to the laws of physics, elevators can't be any taller than 1,700 feet. Hoist ropes become too heavy after that, snapping at 3,200 feet. 

Perhaps the greatest surprise I had as I researched information about elevators was the purpose of the "Door Close" button. In elevators built since the 1990's, the "Door Close" button is there mostly to give passengers the illusion of control. It is not functional. Yes, you are reading correctly, the button is only enabled in emergency situations with a key held by an authority. 

What is the most unusual elevator you ever rode on? I will never forget the tramway of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO or the three level system of the Otis double-deck elevators of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. 

Even though he prefers to take the steps, I will long remember my brief encounter with George, the elevator man. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
Responses can be mailed to president@vfcc.edu
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