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Escalator Madness! [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe]

The holiday shopping season is in full swing and loads of shoppers are hitting malls. Most major shopping centers are spread out over several levels, requiring a brief ride on an escalator to get from floor to floor. These inventions have saved us all from climbing flight after flight of stairs. While escalators are generally safe, sometimes things go wrong.

Check out this video collection of escalator accidents and dumb mistakes.  Quite a few of these people didn’t quite make it to the top!

The escalator, or moving staircase, was first patented by inventor Nathan Ames from Saugus, Massachusetts in 1859. His patent even mentions that the stairs could be carpeted or made of wood.  Another inventor, Leamon Souder, issued four patents for designs of his own, but none of their designs were built.

An antique wooden escalator inside the Macy's flagship store in New York City.

Another inventor, Jesse W. Reno, patented his design for an “endless conveyor or elevator” in 1892. Reno, who graduated from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, installed this first ever escalator type unit next to the Old Iron Pier at New York City’s Coney Island, just four years later. At that time, Coney Island was a big booming summer destination for the crowds of New Yorkers who flocked to the beaches, rides and wacky attractions. This first escalator design was basically a giant belt. A few months later, his prototype would be briefly tested at the end of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Parts of his design were purchased by the now famous Otis Elevator Company, who worked patents from several other inventors into the basic moving stair design we all know today.

I’ve personally ridden two of the three oldest escalator banks in the United States:

• Macy’s, Herald Square – New York City

• Macy’s (formerly Kaufman’s flagship store) – downtown Pittsburgh, PA

The Westfield San Francisco Center in California also features an antique glass enclosed escalator bank.

The world's longest freestanding escalator was originally built for an amusement park, which is now the CNN Center in Atlanta, GA.

So, where is the longest freestanding escalator on Earth? It’s now owned by Ted Turner as part of the CNN Center in Atlanta, Georgia. The giant escalator, with no support beams, was built for the World of Sid & Marty Krofft amusement park on the same location, but closed after only six months in the 1970’s.

Escalators are the primary means for transportation and share part of the street in this hilly section of Hong Kong, China.

The longest bank of escalators in the US can be found at the Wheaton station in the Washington DC Metro.

According to The Guinness Book of World Records, the largest set of outdoor covered escalators is located in Hong Kong, China. Their unique and visually stunning escalator system features 20 escalators, and three moving sidewalks, that carry 55,000 passengers a day up and down the steep, narrow streets. It takes over 20 minutes to ride the entire length. The system, which went into service in 1993, has become a tourist attraction with the opening of many shops, bars and restaurants along the massive route. The escalators run downhill from 6 – 10am and uphill at all other times. These unique escalators were even seen in the movie The Dark Night.

As technology continues to advance, so does escalator design. Now, spiral escalators are beginning to be installed for aesthetic design or in places where space can be limited. 

The spiral escalator bank in Caesar's Palace Forum Shops, Las Vegas, NV.

The first ever spiral escalators in the U.S. were installed at the Westfield San Francisco Center. Two other spiral banks are also inside the Wynn and Caesar’s Palace casinos in Las Vegas. New York City has one spiral bank at the Bloomberg Corporation Office.

Another new development is shopping cart escalators for department stores, known as a cartveyor. Many of these devices are installed next to a standard escalator bank, in which shoppers place their carts onto the special belt that keeps it tilted at a correct angle as it rides alongside. A small set of plastic doors prevent anything other than carts from entering.

A cartveyor inside a Target department store in Chicago, IL.

Many riders often forget the proper etiquette of riding an escalator.  Stand right – walk left. Try breaking this rule exiting the New York City subway during rush hour and you may be met with a few cuss words. While it is not an official law in the U.S., some overseas countries have laws and regulations, just like drivers have to follow on the road.

In Tokyo, Japan, where the locals ride an average of five escalators per day, the subway system has begun cracking down on passengers who walk on escalator banks. A “escalator walking epidemic” has seen a large rise in passenger injuries in the last two decades as more banks are installed. While it is not officially illegal, warning posters have been placed in the subway stations trying to stop the walkers. Good luck trying that in New York!

This modern device, that we now take for granted, was just starting to catch on a century ago. Now, they can be found everywhere from zoos to Navy ships. I couldn’t imagine the New York City subway without them! Who knows what’s next?  The Jetson’s predicted there would be escalators and moving walkways all over people’s futuristic homes.

What’s the craziest or steepest escalator bank you’ve ever ridden on?

This high escalator bank shuttles gamblers into the casino at Revel, Atlantic City, NJ.

THE 411
Name: escalators
What: moving beltways that transport passengers between two various points
First placed into service: Coney Island, New York City – 1896


Escalators aren’t toys, nor are they amusement park rides. Don’t fool around or try to sit on the side rails, it will only end in disaster for everyone.

When I was a teenager, I got my shoelace caught in the down escalator in a Western Pennsylvania mall department store. It was quite frightening during the ride down, but I was able to safely pull the lace out when the steps went back together at the bottom. It was then that I learned these are not for joyrides and to this day make sure my shoes are tied before I get on one.

Lastly, if you are riding, don’t hog the whole thing… stand right – walk left! Please! And be safe at the malls and stores this holiday season!

Image credits: Eric Pesik and Deanna Pesik, gomattolson, puroticorico, goodiesfirst, bfurlong, Payton Chung, @JerseyJoe50

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