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The Escalator, or ‘moving stairs’ is an infrastructural technological development which is actually a trademark, a brand that became so common that its name became a ‘trademark genericide’, just like Aspirin, or Cellophane.
Escalators came after elevators and of course, stairs, both of which were serving the purpose, but had many constraints like vertical expansion of space and a limit on how much a person can ascend or descend manually.
The new technology of escalators transformed not just how the walking person is transported in a building, but the way architecture itself is designed, and created fluid transitions without the limits of the sky or ground.
Nathan Ames, an inventor, applied for the patent in 1859 for the first kind of moving stairs, with a belt attached with three wheels, and powered by kinetic energy. This was never built.
As the 19th century came to an end, there were improvements in the way people lived and worked, facilitating the development of malls, skyscrapers, and electric subway trains. The print and photography industry paved the way for better advertising of products and services.
The Biggest World Fair, the Paris Universal Exposition, introduced the moving staircases in 1900. This International Expo has launched many products we use today, including the calculator in 1862, atomic energy in 1939, the television in the same year, and the ice cream cone back in 1904.
The moving staircase won a grand prize and a gold medal in that year, and gained worldwide traction, with many big names in retail and real estate opting for the Escalators.
Escalators upped their game when prosperous times returned and the late 40s and 50s saw the OTIS company marketing the product directly to customers and finding new business.
It got some competition, which led to a lawsuit and resulted in the loss of the trademark ‘Escalator’ as it had become too generic for everyone.
The Escalator found itself in many movies, with it being used as a wonder technology that can insert slapstick action into a scene, in many creative ways.
We take the moving staircase for granted now, but for the last 100 years it has been the most important invention in shopping.
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