We like to forget how important the elevator was as an invention. How could you have skyscrapers with an elevator? This is an essential invention that made Wall Street so famous and created the word “penthouse.” But it actually did much more than just change New York.
The elevator changed the way that we live when invented in 1853. Its impact reorganized the whole infrastructure and culture of buildings. Meaning that it created the move from small single-family houses to apartment blocks. And also from little business buildings to high rise apartments. What did this mean? Well, suddenly you could come across a stranger pretty much everywhere.
Suddenly ten businesses could all be in the same office block or 20 families could all be living in one apartment block. Where would they bump into each other the most? The elevator. This had a profound impact on our social interactions. A place where you often ask some small talk why you wait for the doors to open. And though this can be argued to be a good thing, possibly causing people to meet who never would have. It also reinforced a certain social hierarchy.
Because even if we all rode in the same elevator – whoever rode higher lived in a higher social echelon. In fact, they invented the high life. Before them, the highest floor would have been the sixth. No one was going to walk up to any more flights of stairs. And the top floors were where the servants lived – no one who had money wanted to live all the way at the top.
But when the elevator raised it up to twelve floors, things started to change – though it definitely took some time. Many did not trust them, they were a new novelty. What would happen if they broke? Even when a tower of apartments was built in 1884 on the Upper West Side(aimed at the rich) it was still assumed they would prefer to live closer to the ground.
Not really until the 1920s did the wealthy want to be on the top floors – when the word “penthouse” was created. And though the simple elevator did create numerous new social interactions, it later became a new symbol of wealth: the private elevator.