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Black History Month: Celebrating Inventor Alexander Miles

February 2 2024
Innovation and Technology, Safety

At TAUC, Black History Month is a time to recognize those who transformed the construction industry, and among them stands Alexander Miles.

Born on May 18, 1838, in what would later be named Duluth, Minnesota, Alexander Miles became a game-changer in an unexpected field – elevators.

In the late 19th century, as cities aimed for the skies with towering skyscrapers, manual elevator doors posed serious safety concerns for construction crews and building occupants. With the growing height of skyscrapers, safety risks escalated. Alexander Miles stepped in with a groundbreaking invention – the automatic elevator door system. Patented on October 11, 1887, Miles’ innovation wasn’t just a convenience; it significantly improved safety standards on construction sites and in buildings.

The inspiration for Alexander’s elevator door mechanism is believed to have come after his wife, Grace, accidentally fell down an elevator shaft, almost ending her life. Another version of the story suggests that while in an elevator with his young daughter, Miles noticed the potential risks of a casually left-open elevator shaft door. This observation inspired him to create the design he is now known for.

Miles cleverly attached a flexible belt to the elevator cage. Upon contact with drums positioned along the elevator shaft just above and below the floors, this belt facilitated the precise operation of the elevator shaft doors. Simultaneously, a system of levers and rollers automated the opening and closing of the elevator doors. This practical approach significantly reduced the hazards associated with manual door operation, whether performed by the elevator operator or passengers.

Before Miles’ invention, elevator doors were a safety nightmare. Construction workers struggled while carrying materials and tools, attempting to pry open elevator doors. People going about their day ran the risk of falling down the elevator shaft due to a poorly locked door. It was a tragedy waiting to happen.

Now, every time you safely step into an elevator, you can thank Alexander Miles.

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