ELEVATORS (Passenger) & ELEVATORS: NEW YORK & CHICAGO, FROM THE 1870s: Thinking About Tall Buildings and New Technologies

Wed, Sep 16, 2020 Mon, Sep 14, 2020 at 6:00 pm
and Wed, Sep 16 at 6:00 pm
A composition of two images. The first image is a rendering of a section cut of an early elevator showing a vertical hydraulic engine. The second image shows Santa Fe Elevator, Damen and the Chicago River.
Top: Engraving of an elevator by Otis Brothers, 1869.
Bottom: Santa Fe Elevator, Damen and the Chicago River. Detroit Publishing Co.

Part 1: Thomas Leslie, Chicago’s Other Skyscrapers: Grain Elevators and the City, 1838-1957

Part 2: Lee Gray, Elevator Office Buildings, New York and Chicago from the 1870s

For Week 1, a pair of lectures by two historians, Thomas Leslie and Lee Gray, focus on complementary talks on very different subjects that raise issues about how technological inventions and the embrace of new materials impact the form and functions of buildings. Two kinds of elevators – passenger and grain – provide the points of comparison.

In one case, the introduction of passenger elevators in office buildings in New York from 1870 – a delayed adoption, after more than a decade of use in stores and hotels – is often identified as the origins of the “skyscraper.” Lee Gray, the preeminent scholar of elevator history and author of From Ascending Rooms to Express Elevators: A History of the Passenger Elevator in the 19th Century (2002), discusses the “dialogue of invention and need” that characterized the earliest examples of the design of elevator office buildings in both cities.

In Chicago, while tall office buildings were slower to appear and shorter than contemporaries in New York, there were other impressive structures that dominated the skyline: grain elevators. Because none of these grain elevators survive, their history has been mostly forgotten. Thomas Leslie, author of Chicago Skyscrapers, 1871-1934 (2013) thoroughly explored the typology and technology of grain elevators in a recent Journal of Urban History article “Chicago’s Other Skyscrapers: Grain Elevators and the City, 1838-1957,” which he summarizes in his talk.

The two lectures, each about 40 minutes, include an introduction by Carol Willis and a dialogue with the two speakers.

Readings

Thomas Leslie, Chicago’s Other Skyscrapers: Grain Elevators and the City, 1838-1957, Journal of Urban History, May, 2020

Lee Gray, From Ascending Rooms to Express Elevators: A History of the Passenger Elevator in the 19th Century, Elevator World, Inc., 2002

Part 1: Thomas Leslie, Chicago’s Other Skyscrapers: Grain Elevators and the City, 1838-1957

Part 2: Lee Gray, Elevator Office Buildings, New York and Chicago from the 1870s

View the FULL PROGRAM with Carol Willis's introduction and dialogue with Lee Gray and Thomas Leslie.

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