Have you ever noticed?

One of my favorite pastimes is reading — reading on all sorts of topics and in different formats, as I have many interests. A longtime favorite has been the web comic XKCD by Randall Munroe (I’m actually currently reading his book What If? – Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions)

Out of curiosity, I searched the archive for something relevant to the elevator industry and once again XKCD did not disappoint and presents us with comic #897: Elevator Inspection


Even governmental elevator inspectors get bored halfway through asking where the building office is


There is more to his comics than meets the eye however; and it’s in the form of ‘hidden text’ (or ‘image title’). Just put your cursor over the image and it will appear. The title text for this particular comic reads:

“Even governmental elevator inspectors get bored halfway through asking where the building office is”

This will probably cause you to pay a little closer attention the next time you step into the elevator – whether it is at your apartment complex or work place. The countless reasons why building owners should pay to have their elevators inspected and maintained regularly can be summed up into one word: SAFETY

So: Have you ever noticed an out of date certificate or a sign stating something similar to the comic above? This comic is a few years old (2011) but this issue is still ever present in the U.S. Just as recently as November 2014, Massachusetts was experiencing a major backlog of inspections. Most of the owners however did apply for and pay the inspection fee only to have it delayed due to the government division overseeing the inspections. Most. Several did not apply. This obviously presents several problems and creates potential for disaster.

Take a closer look on your next ride and don’t be afraid to say something or grab your fellow riders to go on a journey to find the certificate!



Whites Only: Segregated Elevators During Jim Crow

by Hanno van der Bijl


Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is an uplifting yet sobering national holiday. On the one hand, we remember Dr. King for leading a life well lived by serving others; and on the other hand, we are confronted with the sad legacy of racial segregation he sought to dismantle. Talking about the history of Jim Crow and the civil rights movement elicits varied responses: grief, anger or simply ambivalence. What does it matter? It makes sense to talk about it in terms of public policy, but what does it have to do with us? It is not something that comes up very often in the elevator industry or at Elevator World.

William C. Sturgeon, our late founder, tells the story of a conversation he had with his future mother-in-law in the 1940s. Sturgeon, who was from New York, was dating Mary Sands Dreisback while he was serving as an officer in Mobile, Alabama during WWII. He recalls that Mary Sands’ mother didn’t really approve of him as a Yankee:

“One time, I even asked Miss Mamie if she believed in segregation and she answered, ‘No.’ Then, I asked if she was for integration and the answer was again, ‘No!’ ‘Well, what do you believe in, Miss Mamie?’ I asked. ‘Slavery!!’ she said.”[i]

Miss Mamie’s tongue-in-cheek answer has a long history behind it. Reconstruction ended in 1877 when the last federal troops were withdrawn from the South as part of a deal with the Democratic party to support their bid for the presidency. Majority Democratic legislatures throughout the South began passing strict laws on voter registration and electoral rules, effectively disenfranchising blacks and poor whites — although, many illiterate whites could still vote under Grandfather clauses. After a decade of such practices, political power was squarely centered in an all-white system of government that began to pass Jim Crow laws in 1890, starting with Mississippi. These rules were designed to keep African Americans separate but equal — the irony, or hypocrisy, being that blacks were and never could be equal under such an apartheid system.

Segregation was also a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution and urbanization. While white supremacy remained unchecked in rural areas where the cotton economy was paramount, it was threatened in urban centers with the influx of poor blacks seeking employment. They took undesirable jobs such as maids, porters and waiters; but during the Great Depression, whites would compete for these jobs with blacks. While Northern states practiced a societal form of segregation through discriminatory housing, bank lending and employment practices, Southern states practiced legal segregation through Jim Crow laws.[ii] These laws were extended to schools, streetcars, libraries, restaurants, parks, zoos, and even residential areas.[iii] In dense cities, there were some vehicles that brought people into particularly close contact with each other: the elevators. And they were no exception to the rule.

In 1903, elevators began to be segregated in Atlanta, Georgia. African-Americans could not ride a building’s passenger elevators — they were relegated to the freight elevators, as if they were cargo. Whites were free to ride the freight elevators if they wanted to. Ironically, some buildings in Atlanta allowed African-Americans to go down but not up.[iv] Surely the symbolism was not lost on them.

Built in 1903, the National Loan and Exchange Bank was the only building in Columbia, South Carolina to house elevators. Three years later, a New York Times article reports that the “Jim Crow” rule was applied to its elevators. There were complaints that blacks were crowding into the cars with the white women, who were employed as stenographers and clerks. However, it wasn’t the natural overcrowding of the elevators that brought on this mandate but a perceived show of disrespect:

“The immediate cause of the action by the owners of the building grew out of the fact that a negro porter of a club on the twelfth floor was slow to remove his hat when ordered to do so while women were in the car. He was promptly discharged by the club.”[v]

Southern chivalry operated under a double standard even in the elevators’ close quarters. In his autobiography, Benjamin E. Mays, Dr. King’s mentor and eulogizer, wrote of Atlanta:

“More than once I saw white men, wearing their hats in an elevator with a Negro woman present, snatch them off with military precision when a white woman got on, only to replace them with finality if the white woman got off before the Negro woman. No opportunity to show the Negro woman that she was unworthy of respect must be missed! If a Negro man kept his hat on in an elevator, he was told to take it off; if he refused, his hat was knocked off.”[vi]

Or he was fired, as in the case of the porter in Columbia, South Carolina.

As you can imagine, this protocol was not only disrespectful to a part of the workforce operating in the building, it was also inefficient. Black mail carriers could not finish their work on time if they had to wait for the segregated elevator and keep their caps in their hands while distributing the daily mail. It was not practical to gather their own straw while still making the same amount of bricks. So, after they appealed to the federal government, Mays records, “The government handed down a decision that the mail carrier was like a soldier serving his government and therefore was not subject to the segregation requirement.”[vii] For many urban African-Americans, daily life was a battle on the front lines of polite society.

Besides the reports and personal accounts already mentioned, is there any further evidence of segregated elevators? In his magisterial work on Jim Crow laws, first published in 1955, C. Vann Woodward writes that there were no official state laws or city ordinances requiring separate elevators for African Americans. However, he goes on “to admit, and even to emphasize, that laws are not an adequate index of the extent and prevalence of segregation and discriminatory practices in the South. The practices often anticipated and sometimes exceeded the laws” (emphasis in original).[viii]

Elevators are simply machines. They lift people up and bring them down to a nice gentle stop, but only humans could use them as a tool to put another down. Elevators continue to be segregated in different parts of the world. For example, in a few countries, women are not allowed to ride the same elevators as men, and servants are not allowed in the same elevators as their masters. New York City and London are struggling with the issue of “poor doors,” separate entrances for mixed housing’s rich and poor tenants.

The point of remembering and reflecting on past injustices is not to open old wounds or induce guilt, but to help shed light on how we can rectify present inequality. Even if we simply go about our own business, we can become complicit in evil if we do not actively move against injustice. The elevator you design, make, sell, install, maintain, ride or write about may be used as an instrument of injustice. Whatever reasons or excuses we can formulate for an unjust status quo are ultimately unacceptable. There is no middle ground; either we float along in the riptide of injustice, or we stand for and promote justice where we are. Serving others by giving thought to injustice in your own context honors the dream and legacy of Dr. King and the vision this day represents.



The National Loan and Exchange building in Columbia, South Carolina today (photo by Lance Taylor)


[i] William C. Sturgeon, More Ups Than Downs: A Memoir (Mobile, AL: Elevator World, Inc., 2012), 30.
[ii] “Jim Crow laws,” Wikipedia, last modified December 27, 2014, accessed December 30, 2014, http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Crow_laws.
[iii] Carole Merritt, “African American Community Building in Atlanta: A Guide to the Study of Race in America,” Southern Spaces, March 17, 2004, accessed November 21, 2014, http://www.southernspaces.org/2004/african-american-community-building-atlanta-guide-study-race-america.
[iv] Benjamin E. Mays, Born to Rebel: An Autobiography (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2011), 83, accessed December 29, 2014, http://books.google.com/books?id=HhLzaenbHvgC&lpg=PP1&pg=PA83#v=onepage&q&f=false.
[v] “Jim Crow Elevator Rule: Columbia to Separate the Races In Her Skyscraper Lifts,” New York Times, April 30, 1906, accessed November 21, 2014, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9B01E7D8113EE733A25753C3A9629C946797D6CF.
[vi] Mays, 83
[vii] Mays, 83
[viii] C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001), 102, accessed December 30, 2014, https://books.google.com/books?id=vQHg5oBavmYC&lpg=PP1&pg=PA102 – v=onepage&q&f=false.


View from Top of the Rock


Spending Christmas in New York City, a friend of ELEVATOR WORLD captured this view from the Top of the Rock® observation deck at Rockefeller Center. From 70 floors up, visitors enjoy 360-degree views of the city, including this supertall condo tower, 432 Park Avenue. At 1,396 ft. tall, it rivals One World Trade Center in height (and is, in fact, taller if one doesn’t count One World Trade Center’s spire). The building will house multimillion-dollar condos, and is scheduled to be complete later this year. It was designed by Rafael Viñoly. Upon completion, it will be the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere.

Photo by Jill Trent


Northwestern-Purdue and the Elevator

In today’s digital age we (almost) immediately hear when celebrities, sports teams and other well-known figures become stuck or have any type of accident in an elevator thanks to Twitter, Facebook, etc.  Well, it was also news in 1931!  The Northwestern football team traveled to the Chicago Beach hotel the afternoon before their game with Purdue to avoid distractions around campus and get a quiet night of sleep. That evening, ten Northwestern players got in the hotel elevator after dinner to go up to their sixth floor rooms and retrieve their coats before going out.  What happened next is the rest of the story…




Balls on an Escalator: Happy New Year!

One of the great attractions of getting out into nature is the opportunity for peaceful reflection. You think about your life — how far you’ve come and where you want to go. Watching these colored balls climb up and cascade down an escalator is a similar experience. It’s like watching a waterfall on a scenic hiking trail. It also makes me think of the nature of time as we mark the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015. Like these balls, we travel up the escalator of time during the year, then bounce down to the bottom to start the ride again.

As you watch this mesmerizing video, I hope you are encouraged by the good things that happened this year and look forward to what the new year will bring. Happy New Year!


Deep Escalator Thoughts

The holiday season is a time of reflection for many of us, even regardless of faith. That’s why we’d like to share this Deseret News article with you as you celebrate this special time of the year. Elder L. Whitney Clayton at Brigham Young University (BYU)–Hawaii gave an inspirational speech at the school’s commencement on December 13, in which reminded attendees that “there is no escalator to accomplishment in life.” Fortunately, though, there are needs for plenty escalators in the physical world, helping our industry have success year round.

Happy holidays!


Elevator Ads: Companies Get Jiggy With It

We’ve seen some nice elevator ads from companies before, notably Hendrick’s campaign last year in which it dressed up numerous elevators in Canada in Victorian finery to tout the company’s delicious gin. But Hendrick’s isn’t the only one turning to vertical transportation to tout its products. Design blog Hongkiat.com recently compiled some of the more creative campaigns they’ve seen. They range from designs meant to convey the seriousness of human rights and climate change to ones that cleverly suggest you really need a Coke, Oreo cookies or a certain brand of condom. My favorite is this plastic surgeon’s ad inviting riders to be “born again” with a little nip and/or tuck. What is your favorite?

Image courtesy of My Modern Met

Image courtesy of My Modern Met



The Lunar Elevator is the new Space Elevator



As you probably know, the idea of an elevator to space has been around for quite a while. It’s radical. It’s complicated and if we are being honest, it’s just cool. Well if you ask Michael Laine, President and Chief Strategic Officer of LiftPort Group, it’s going to happen by 2020. Except this one is going to be based on the moon. LiftPort Group’s mission statement says “We want to link Humanity from our Home to our Moon, to our Planets, and to the Stars”

Their plan is to use a ‘ribbon’ cable to transport material, robots and even humans to and from the surface of the moon.
This cable would be attached to a space station around the moon. In order to keep this space station stationary, it will be placed in a Lagrange Point – which is a specific location in an orbital configuration where the gravitational pull of two bodies cancel each other out.

LiftPort Group also says this could serve as a predecessor to an Earth-based elevator to the moon and is adamant about construction beginning by 2020.

If this becomes a reality, will we have to change our name to ElevatorGalaxy?

Anyway, check out their website here for more (technical) information and be sure to leave us a comment!


Is the Elevator Ride a “Zombie Moment” No More?

In the recent Vanity Fair article “Behind Closing Doors,” James Wolcott calls 2014 “the year of the elevator video.” Beginning with a short history of elevator-riding observation in popular culture, he soon delves into the drama that has been surveilled elevator rides this year.

Photograph from Getty Images; photo illustration by Vanity Fair.

You won’t find many of the cases the article mentions in the pages of ELEVATOR WORLD, ELENET or on our website. That’s because we generally don’t report on things that happen in an elevator that could happen anywhere. However, we’d like to stress that much more happiness takes place in our industry’s cabins than sad stories like these suggest.