February 10, 1870, The Evening Post, Page 4, Column 3, The New Way of Getting Up Stairs.
What would our ancestors have thought, in the days of George Washington, if they had heard people talk of going up stairs by steam! In those good old times it was the elegant thing for a gentleman to have his drawing room, library, dining hall, chambers and kitchen all on one floor and to dispense entirely with stairs of any kind excepting as a means of getting into the cockloft or garret. But in these advanced times our wealthy citizens think nothing of occupying a suite of elegant and expensive apartments in the seventh story of the Grand Hotel, and are probably not over-particular whether there are stairs or not in the building, as all they have to do to get to their delightful home in the skies is to walk into a small but handsomely furnished room on the ground floor, wink at the young man who ever sits just inside the door, and away they go up to the clouds like one of the happy fellows we read of in the Arabian Nights' Entertainments.
It is not so many years since weary travellers just arrived jaded and dusty from the night train would have well-nigh fainted with chagrin and despair if told at the hotel that they were to have rooms on the eighth story. What a change has taken place! The comfortable, nay, luxurious elevator has reversed all these things. Old ideas are no longer current. A new order of things has come about. Now the top story is the most desirable. The view from the windows, the pure air of heaven, the distance from noise and confusion---these and many other attractions render these elevated regions the choicest of all.
This is no puff for elevator men---neither for hotels. We shall mention the name of none in the business. We are led to moralize and philosophize by the wondrous change that has come over our tastes as regards altitudes. Once New York city was not expected to grow in any other wise than longitudinally towards Harlem River, the waters of the bay and the Hudson and east Rivers having combined to prevent any lateral expansion. But now old residents are taken literally off their feet by the tendency of the city to grow upwards. We are now fully prepared to see next a down ward growth begun into the bowels of the earth.
It is the steam elevator which has done all this. The hotels are beginning to be modern Babels. One on Broadway has lately been adding ten or a dozen stories to its already dizzy height. We confidently look for the day when the city shall be built up so high that vertical city railroads will be run up and down by corrupt corporations.
Some twenty years ago or more, hoisting apparatus began to be introduced something after the fashion of modern elevators, but with none of the improvements. Then merchants and manufacturers began to make use of more convenient machines for the hoisting of merchandise, and steam was soon introduced as a power. As years passed on, and men of genius devised new modes of applying the theory, the hotels ventured to try the experiment of coaxing otherwise unwilling guests into the upper stories. The plan proved a success, and now a hotel without a steam elevator is like a gun without a barrel.
Even younger readers can remember the time when such a thing as going up-stairs in a dry goods store was are indeed. But now, not only are we invited up-stairs in such palaces as those of A. T. Stewart & Co., and Arnold Constable & Co., and H. B. Caflin & Co., but we are hurled up through the air, past story after story of their magnificent buildings, and brought into their fourth and fifth floors in a shorter time than we should have taken to ascend one flight of stairs in the olden time.
Even the down town office renters have snuffed the advantages of the elevating system from afar. Space is valuable about Wall Street and in Broadway up to Liberty Street. It is pretty difficult to find a plot of ground as large as 100 x 50 feet. And yet the Equitable Life Insurance Company has not only found a plot of ground at the corner of Cedar Street and Broadway, of dimensions about 100 x 150 feet, but has built a fire-proof house on it, the domes of which pierce the sky and the upper portion of which is filled with offices for lawyers and architects, and men of all vocations.
These people have made a new application of the aspiring tendency of the times, and the thing has already proved a success. A hundred offices, in a completely fire-proof building, made of nothing but iron and stone, is rather a nice piece of property to hold, without saying more. Add to this the most central location for lawyers, brokers, bankers, insurance companies, and managers of estates, and your property is greatly enhanced in value. This is what the Equitable has. But they have not been satisfied with this. They have heated all the offices with steam, ventilated them after the most scientific modern system, polished them in handsome style, arranged them in suites applicable to all branches of business, and put into the building, not one, but two steam elevators, both of which will be constantly running during the business hours of the day. These elevators are of the most improved and perfect description ever made in this country, and move not only with absolute safety but with great rapidity; so that a person having business with a lawyer on the fifth floor will reach his counsel's office sooner and with less exertion than in ascending stairs to the second floor.
The effect of this bold but brilliant move has already been felt. Leading law firms, capitalists and managers of estates have taken offices on the fifth and sixth floors of the building, and others are after the rooms. The officers of the company now regret that the building was not made twelve instead of seven stories high.
It is hard to realize---but on the 1st of May next this building will be filled with a swarm of lawyers and others six layers deep, and the upper ones will be more easily and speedily accessible than those who now pay high rents for second-story accommodations in second-class houses in Nassau and Wall Streets and Broadway---to say nothing of the advantage of the fire-proof structure.
If you call on a lawyer---instead (as now) of throwing away time, rupturing blood vessels, and losing your wind by clambering up dark staircases---you walk directly from the street into one of the handsome vertical steam cars (which will always be in readiness, one ascending while the other descends,) and, taking a seat on the comfortably cushioned seats, will be almost instantaneously lifted to the sixth floor, where, apart from the world, and undisturbed by the noises of the street, you can consult your advisers in seclusion and repose.
Who will not revel in such a luxury as this? The tendency of this movement will be to collect a great number of the legal profession together in this spacious building, and we doubt not a nucleus will thus be formed for a general settlement of lawyers in that neighborhood.
Now is the opportunity for some enterprising New Englander to buy a lot twenty by fifty and put up a building on it as high as Trinity Church steeple, with a line of steam elevators running every five minutes. Thirty floors, with two rooms on each floor, will be about the available office room of the structure, and the proprietor might rent out the roof either for an astronomical observatory, a shot tower, or a light house, as best accorded with his fancy.
One single manufacturer of steam elevators has erected over one thousand of them. They are now being introduced in almost every branch of business. People are forgetting the old prejudices against the upper stories of the house, and the time is not distant when the question will be "how high up can you let me an office?" instead of "how low down?"
Anything in this crowded, badly-cleaned city, to get Heaven's pure air and to escape the noxious smells of the street. Anything for quiet and repose. Anything for ventilation and light. And the business man will add---anything to get more desirable accommodation at the heart of the city, where its financial arteries meet.
[Actually, the first elevator in a commercial building in New York was in Eder V. Haughwout's fancy-goods emporium at the northeast corner of Broome Street and Broadway, built in 1857, and standing five-stories and 79-feet tall,
Built with cast-iron sections for its two street-fronts, provided by Daniel D. Badger's Architectural Iron Works, with its supposedly unseen north and east sides built of load-bearing masonry walls.
The building's designers installed the world's first successful passenger elevator on March 23, 1857, or thirteen years before insurance men dared. It was a hydraulic lift designed for the building by Elisha Graves Otis. It cost $300 and had a speed of .67 feet per second
Haughwout's was a bit of a hybrid, like the Equitable Building, having cast-iron columns and wood beams.]