Archives:Technological Systems Compete at Otis Hydraulic Versus Electric Elevators


The hydraulic elevator reached the height of its popularity at the turn of this century, a decade after the appearance of electric elevators. The competition between two elevator systems — one hydraulic and the other electric — illustrates the evolution of the newer, electric system and its components. Hydraulically powered elevators included several types, most notably the directplunger type and the rope-geared hydraulic. Similarly, the electric elevator appeared with variations from maker to maker and through time, the worm gear and gearless traction being the most common types. The competition between hydraulic and electric systems also reflects business factors, including the infamous Elevator Trust and the turn-of-the-century merger movement.  Otis (as Otis Brothers & Company and later as the Otis Elevator Company) provides a case study of the competition of technological systems within a company and an industry.

Citation and Link

Anne Millbrooke, "Technological Systems Compete at Otis Hydraulic Versus Electric Elevators," in Technological Competitiveness: Contemporary and Historical Perspectives on Electrical, Electronics, and Computer Industries (Piscataway, NJ: IEEE Press, 1993), 243-269.

Technological Systems Compete at Otis Hydraulic Versus Electric Elevators (pdf)