The invention of Alexander Miles’ elevator doors dramatically improved safety for passengers. Early elevators were different from the mostly automated devices we’re familiar with today. Passengers in any elevator in the late 1880s and early 1900s had to manually open and close doors including the doors leading to the actual elevator shaft. If the door was accidentally left open, other passengers could fall down the shaft when expecting to step into the elevator. Alexander Miles invented a device that triggered the shaft doors to open and close along with the elevator doors, which made the elevator ride much safer. Although rarely connected with this invention, we can all agree Miles’ ingenuity and foresight plays an integral part of our 21st Century world. In fact, the elevators we use currently still feature automatic shaft doors similar to the invention Miles Patented in 1887!
Miles’ exact birthplace and birthdate are unknown, but he was living in Duluth, Minnesota when he came up with his famous invention. For more history and African American collections, and preserved culture visit the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at www.nypl.org.