What Goes Up

A salute to the small but dedicated cadre of elevator professionals who see to it that your next ride won't be your last

If it weren't for the invention of the elevator, of course, the duPont Building never would have been built. The modern elevator can be traced back to about 2600 B.C., when Egyptians used a system of hoists and pulleys to build the Great Pyramid of Cheops. Rudimentary hoisting devices were also employed by the Greeks and Romans. During the Middle Ages, the Monastery of St. Barlaam in Greece, which was perched on a 200-foot peak, was accessible only by a rope pulley fitted with a basket or net.

The shift from human power to other sources began in 1800, when coal miners used James Watt's steam engine to fuel a device that lifted coal from the mine shafts. But it was a 41-year-old master mechanic working for a manufacturing company in Yonkers, New York, whose invention spurred the rapid development of passenger elevators. In 1852, Elisha Graves Otis designed a gizmo that stopped a hoist platform from falling if its cable were to snap. He publicly debuted his creation A dubbed the "safety hoister" A at New York's Crystal Palace Exhibition two years later. In 1857, the elevator much improved by this new safety mechanism, Otis installed the first passenger elevator in a five-story New York City department store. Ascending at the rate of about 40 feet per minute, it heralded the beginning of the era of the skyscraper. The Otis Elevator Company, the world's largest manufacturer of elevators, now has more than 1.2 million elevators in use worldwide.

Six of those, manufactured in 1939, rise and fall daily at the Alfred I. duPont Building.

In the age of high-tech computerization, where microchip-powered control systems have eliminated the on-board attendant, the last human touch in the elevator is the inspector's signature. "If people happen to see me sign the certificate," says Metro-Dade inspector Don Greene, "they go, 'Oh, D.J. Greene A you're the guy. I've been looking for you!'" Adds Miami's Singh: "Many people, they shake hands. They say, 'Oh, you are the one!'"

But the inspector's signature, too, is on the verge of becoming an anachronism. Seeking a more streamlined process, the State of Florida has already eliminated signed certificates, opting instead to post a more generic inspection card that doesn't include the inspector's name. The City of Miami Beach has followed the state's lead and Metro-Dade is discussing it, though the traditionalists at the City of Miami have no plans to forgo the personal touch.

The talk at Metro to do away with the signatures suits Carl Mario just fine. "I don't like my name known," he grumbles, citing the endless calls he gets from people blaming him for elevator ills. Once, he recounts, then-county manager Sergio Pereira got stuck in a Government Center elevator for two hours. "The phone ran out of power and he was stuck in there without communication, and all he saw was my name [on the certificate] and he got more and more pissed," Mario says. Fortunately, when consultants were called in to determine the cause of the debacle, it turned out not to be anything that could have been prevented on an inspection.

Climbing the stairs for yet another machine room inspection, Singh says he has never considered the celebrity A or ignominy A generated by his signature. "I never thought of that, really," he muses, pausing to straighten the sheaf of inspection forms tucked under his arm. "I do it as a duty. That's it.

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