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#AceNewsRoom With ‘Kindness & Wisdom’ Sept, 20. 2022 @acehistorynews
#AceHistoryDesk – Today in History – As part of the legislative package called the Compromise of 1850. Since the founding of the District of Columbia in 1800, enslaved people had lived and worked in the nation’s capital. By the mid-nineteenth century, laws regulating slavery in the District were considerably more lenient than slave codes in the rest of the South, but slavery continued to exist in Washington until April 16, 1862.
On that day, President Lincoln signed legislation freeing the 3,000 African Americans bound by the District’s slave code.
Antebellum Washington was home to a thriving community of free blacks. The laws of Southern states commonly prohibited manumitted persons from remaining within state boundaries. Forced to seek a new life far from friends and family, many former enslaved persons migrated to Washington. By 1860, free blacks outnumbered the enslaved by nearly four to one in the city.
Many Northern states abolished slavery and slave trading during the early national period. However, section 9 of the United States Constitution specified, “The migration or importation of such persons as any of the states now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight. Urging New Yorkers to ratify the Constitution, revolutionary patriot and Federalist John Jay noted:
What is proposed to be done by England is already done in Virginia, Delaware, and Rhode-Island, and it is likely to take place in all the States of America. It will be an honour to this country, and the most glorious event in the present reign, if the example should be followed here.
“Extract from an Address to the People of the State of New-York, on the Subject of the Constitution.” [New York: 1788]. Documents from the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention, 1774 to 1789. Rare Book & Special Collections Divisionnone
The United States banned further slave importation in 1808, as soon as the Constitution allowed. Essentially a dead letter by the end of the Civil War, the institution of slavery was permanently dismantled by passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.
On September 20, 1853, Elisha Graves Otis sold his first “hoist machines,” or elevators, featuring an automatic safety brake that he had recently patented. His seemingly simple invention—guaranteed to stop a rising platform from falling if the ropes that held it broke—not only launched Otis’s business, but made possible the development of passenger elevators. Elevators enabled the modern high-rise building. Before 1850 most buildings were no more than six stories tall, but today’s skyscrapers range from fifty to more than one hundred stories in height.
Otis opened his small enterprise on the banks of the Hudson River in Yonkers, New York, in a space where he still worked as the foreman of a bedstead factory. At first few people, including Otis himself, recognized the full implications of his new invention. He only abandoned plans to join the California gold rush after receiving an unsolicited order for two freight elevators with safety brakes. To produce them, he went into business with his sons Charles and Norton.
Lacking further orders, however, Otis arranged with P. T. Barnum to publicly demonstrate his device at the first American world’s fair in New York City. During May 1854, as the legend goes, Otis would mount an open elevator platform installed at the center of the Crystal Palaceexposition hall, hoist himself to the ceiling, and with the dramatic flash of a saber, cut the rope. As the platform began to plummet toward the ground, Otis’ patented safety brake kicked in with a jolt and broke the elevator’s fall. “All safe, gentlemen, all safe,” became his famous refrain. This showmanship launched the elevator industry, so that by 1856 Otis’s sales totaled twenty-seven elevators.
The world’s first commercial passenger elevator was installed by Otis in 1857, at the E. V. Haughwout & Company department store in New York City. Powered by steam, it rose at a speed of forty feet per minute. Early passenger elevators featured posh decorations and seating and were controlled by conductors. Hotels such as the Occidental in San Francisco, the St. Charles in New Orleans, and Congress Hall in Saratoga Springs, were among the first structures to adopt passenger elevators. A Saratoga guidebook for 1872 reported of Congress Hall that “broad, commodious stairways, with the finest elevator in the country, render every portion readily accessible… The proprietors have endeavored to incorporate into this hotel everything that can afford comfort and pleasure, at whatever expense.”
The passenger elevator paired with steel frame construction techniques made the development of the skyscraper possible. Generally considered the world’s first skyscraper, William Le Baron Jenney’s ten-story Home Insurance Company Building in Chicago was the first to incorporate steel as a structural material. Built in 1885, it was serviced by four passenger elevators. The 1913 Woolworth Building boasted twenty-six elevators; the 1931 Empire State Building required fifty-eight. The first fully automatic self-service elevators were installed in Dallas, Texas, in 1950. Twenty years later, elevators in Chicago’s John Hancock Center soared upward at 1,800 feet per minute and, until its catastrophic destruction on September 11, 2001, the 110-story World Trade Center in New York City operated 252 elevators and 71 escalators manufactured by Otis.
- R. F. Dearborn. Saratoga and How to See It. (Saratoga, NY: C. D. Slocum, 1872). p 72. (Return to text)
- Search across the collections on the term elevator to retrieve images of passenger, freight, and grain elevators. See, for example, a photograph of Grain Elevators in Caldwell, Idaho, or view a 1900 Edison film, Scene from the Elevator Ascending Eiffel Tower. A second Edison film, The Good Sport of 1918, is a domestic comedy featuring an inventor who makes elevators that stop even with the floor.
- Learn more about the men who used elevators and steel beam construction to create the first skyscrapers. See Today in History features about Chicago architects Louis Sullivan and Daniel H. Burnham, and New Yorker Cyrus Eidlitz. For more on skyscrapers, see Today in History entries on The Empire State Building and Skyscrapers of New York. Search the pictorial collections on skyscraper or escalator for many additional images.
- Search Chronicling America on Otis Elevator to see a wide variety of advertisements and articles relating to the early history of the company founded by Elisha Otis and his sons. One 1912 advertisement from The Sun, for example, refers to the “Marvelous vertical railways in the new Woolworth Building” in New York City.
- The Otis Elevator Company presented its “Escalator” at the 1900 Paris Exposition (World’s Fair), where it was awarded a grand prize. Since then, the word escalator has entered the English language and is no longer a trade name. Search the Gottscho-Schleisner Collection on escalator to locate additional images.
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