BERN, SWITZERLAND – Switzerland is a treasure trove of beautiful things from the recent past, in large part because they are so often well maintained.
The National Hotel in Bern has a beautiful 100-plus-year-old Schindler elevator, as does the Chateau Mercier, built in 1908 for the Mercier family of Lausanne as a second home in Sierre.
These delighful little people-movers come complete with wooden benches for the weary and elderly, and elegant wooden interiors. The one in Bern operates in a magnificent stairwell.
The elevator, like most inventions, has a history of many people working on similar ideas at the same time, but it appears that the idea of a lift – a platform in a shaft to move people and goods up and down – goes back to the third century BC, and that King Louis XV used a man-powered one built for him in Versailles in 1743 to visit his mistress one floor above. The visits cannot have been very secret.
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The first public passenger elevator was built by Elisha Otis’s young elevator firm in the US in 1857, according to the company. It was a steam-operated one, in a five-floor department store. Electricity brought a major improvement over steam, with German inventor Werner von Siemens taking credit for the first electric elevator in 1880. Meanwhile, Otis had come up with another key feature of modern elevators: brakes.
Robert Schindler and Eduard Villiger founded a machinery company in Switzerland 1874 that quickly included elevators. From the history pages of the company that is now the world’s second largest elevator maker:
“While elevators manufactured by Schindler & Villiger in 1883 were water driven, the first hydraulic models for lifting freight were shipped from the factory in 1890. They were followed two years later by the first belt-driven electric elevator. In 1899 Schindler elevators were equipped with worm gears and controlled by a pull rope. The first electric passenger elevator with automatic push-button control left the factory in 1902. In 1915 Schindler began manufacturing elevator motors; cranes were added to its product range in 1920.”