The modern elevator that we know and recognise today was invented during the mid-19th century and is less than 200 years old. With this said, the concept of the elevator has been around for much longer than people realise as the Romans used their own makeshift systems made from ropes and pulleys. Here at Elevators Ltd, we know that our industry exists thanks to the engineering marvel of inventors like Elisha Graves Otis. Read on as we go over some of the significant moments in history that document the design of ancient elevators…

Ancient Egypt

Before the Greeks and Romans were able to get their hands on the concept of elevators, ancient Egyptians were using a rather primitive design in order to allow farmers to transport water from the Nile to their farms. In fact, they devised a method that allowed the water to be collected in clay pots and then pulled with a hemp rope using slave labour. While this wasn’t the most effective method, it was a very simple lifting solution that allowed the farmlands to receive the water it required.  


Around 236 BC, a Greek scientist and inventor known as Archimedes managed to design the very first elevator using pulleys and winches. A rope was wound around a wheel and two weights were fitted to either end as Archimedes discovered that a lighter weight on one end allowed it to be easily risen to the top. The Greeks then developed this idea further by creating platforms that allowed the ‘elevator’ to stop at certain levels.

The Roman Empire

The most complex ancient elevator was developed by the Roman Empire in the 1st Century BC and it was comprised of 24 elevator cages that were operated by a slave labour force of 224. The slaves would work in groups of 8 on a single winch in order to operate the rope and pulley system that allowed the contents to be delivered onto the floor of the Colosseum Arena. Interestingly, the contraption was so efficient that all 24 cages could be risen in a matter of seconds.

Here at Elevators Ltd, our elevators may be more advanced than ropes and pulleys but the concept is incredibly similar. After all, hundreds of years of development has allowed engineering experts to polish the design and make it suitable for public use. Plus, the creation of an emergency braking system in the 1850’s increased the appeal of lifts considerably. To find out more information about the history of elevators, get in contact with the best lift company on the market and ask a member of the Elevators Ltd team today!