To the onlooker, a modern elevator seems like some kind of magic. You step inside a metal box, select a number on the inside, and away you go to your floor destination. While these methods of vertical transportation seem technologically advanced, very little about the design of elevators has changed in the last 50 years. Let’s take a look at an overview of the manufacturing and installation process of modern elevators. 

Before an Elevator is Installed

Most of the attributes of modern elevators are constructed and assembled before the unit arrives at the building where it will be installed. Resembling almost more of a train car than part of a building, a elevator’s cars are assembled largely at the elevator manufacturer’s factory or plant. Due to exposure to the elements in the assembly and building construction process, some of the finishing touches may take place after the elevator car has been installed. Such touches include internal electrical components, carpeting, and other interior attributes susceptible to wear from the elements. 

Elevator Shaft Construction

If you’ve ever witnessed the construction of a tall building, you may have noticed that, even before any exterior elements are installed, the elevator shaft and even the car will be installed—if not functioning. Most elevator shafts are constructed of reinforced concrete walls. As the shaft extends skyward, each section of the elevator shaft has to be carefully monitored for straightness and stability to ensure optimal elevator function. 

Additional Elements Installed

Once the reinforced shaft is built, all other attributes are installed. Included in these are guide rails, ramps, and an array of ladders intended for service personnel when needed. Once these are installed, a crane lowers the counterweights through then unroofed elevator shaft onto the tracks. Most elevators use a counterweight system in which a weight much heavier each car is used to pull cars upward. The speed of each car’s ascent and descent are controlled by a series of governors. 

Elevator Car Installation

Once the elevator shaft is completed and the necessary tracks, ramps, motors, counterweights, and controls are installed, the elevator car is next. Each elevator car is hoisted by a crane either into the top of the shaft or at some section along the way. The car is carefully connected to the tracks and a series of cables are attached that connect the necessary counterweights, governors, and electrical sources. 

How Safe Are Elevators?

Dangling hundreds of feet above the ground by a few cables may seem incredibly dangerous. Due to the immense number of safety precautions, elevators may be the safest form of transportation. Each elevator car is connected by an array of cables, though even just a single cable is more than adequate to support the weight of the car. Practically all elevators are also outfitted with a braking system equipped to slow or stop cars in emergency situations. The only instance of a freefalling elevator due to snapped cables was in 1945 when a B25 Bomber plane crashed into the Empire State Building. Even then, the only passenger survived. In fact, only around 26 people die in elevator-related accidents each year—most of whom are elevator technicians. Compare this to the average 26 people that die every five hours in car-related accidents. 

Despite the film industry’s depiction of elevator disasters, elevators are likely the safest form of transportation you’d ever hope to use.