Elisha Otis Inventions and Accomplishments


Elisha Otis was born in Halifax, VT. After moving away from home, he found work for some time as a wagon driver. After having a couple children, Otis was struck with a bad case of pneumonia that almost killed him. He was able to recover, but from there decided that he needed to be in business for himself. That’s when he began working on inventions. Here is a look at the inventions for which he is primarily known.

5 Elisha Otis Inventions

1. Elevator Brakes
Imagine riding in an elevator that has no safety devices at all. If the hoisting cable breaks, you’re going to end up falling to the bottom of the shaft, right? For Otis, this made no sense at all. While living in Yonkers, NY, he decided that he could do something about this and enhance the safety of the elevator. It took him two years, but by 1854 he had a good system that would prevent elevators from falling. He founded an Elevator Company and that is what he is primarily known for inventing. At first orders were slow, but at the 1854 World’s Fair he was able to demonstrate his product and orders double every year afterwards.

2. The Otis Gristmill
Otis might not have invented the water-powered grain-mill, but he did design and build his own operation on the shores of the Green River in the Vermont Hills. It was his first attempt to create a business for himself after his pneumonia, but it never really attracted a customer base. He converted the building into a sawmill later on, but still struggled. His first wife passed away, there were two sons that needed care, and so he gave up inventions for some time to become a doll maker.

3. The Robot Turner
When he was working as a doll maker, he began to get frustrated at how slowly it took him to get work done every day. He was highly skilled, but could only make a dozen toys after a full day of work. That’s when he invented the robot turner, which could produce bedsteads more rapidly than manual methods. His boss gave him a $500 bonus for the invention and Otis used that money to fund his own shop and invent the first types of brakes that eventually would make him famous.

4. The Automatic Bread Baking Oven
While he was working on the elevator brakes, Otis also had an idea to create an automatic method of baking bread. Instead of firing multiple ovens at once to create production, the automatic oven would bake the bread for the given time and then start a new loaf that had been prepared.

5. Train Brakes
Brakes to help trains stop more quickly were the precursor of his elevator brakes. Although it still takes some time for a train to stop today, the speeds that modern trains travel at is much different than the trains of the 19th century. To increase safety on the tracks, Otis developed a method where a train could stop almost instantly if needed.

Elevators in SkyScrapers