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10 great places to ride a unique elevator - 2012-10-24

10 great places to ride a unique elevator

After Elisha Otis created the safety elevator in 1852, the world changed. The inventor, who was born 201 years ago today, perfected a safety brake that prevented an elevator from falling even if its rope broke. The innovation changed not only building design, but tourism, says Stephen Showers , archivist for the Otis Elevator Co. Otis elevators, he notes, are key components to some of the most popular places on the planet. Showers shares some favorites with Larry Bleiberg  for USA TODAY.

The Deep

Hull, England

The world's only underwater elevator is as much an attraction as the sea life at this British aquarium, which opened in 2002. The cars travel through a transparent tube, rising 33 feet through the water and pausing midway to give visitors a mid-tank view. "You're in the middle of a re-created ocean," Showers says. "It really does give you the experience of being in a submarine."

Space Needle


This ode to the Space Age opened 50 years ago as a centerpiece of a World's Fair. The elevators echoed that theme with cars shaped like space capsules. "The elevator is really part of the experience," Showers says. Engineers also took into account the area's weather, designing the high-speed elevators to cut their speed in half to 5 mph in high winds.

Christ the Redeemer monument

Rio de Janeiro

Until 2001, visitors had to climb steep staircases to reach the base of this inspirational concrete and soapstone statue. But new whisper-quiet elevators now carry guests up without disturbing the mood or detracting from the scenery. "To a lot of people, this is pretty incredible. Now the elderly and handicapped can visit," Showers says.

Burj Khalifa


Visitors zoom to the top of the world's tallest building on the world's fastest elevators, which travel nearly 2,000 feet per minute. "This is one of the incredible structures in the world today," Showers says. And the view from the 124th floor outdoor observation deck is pretty fantastic, too.


Washington, D.C.

The history of modern journalism isn't the only reason to visit this downtown museum. The building's six-story glass-walled elevators also offer a memorable bay-window view of the 90-foot-tall atrium and the sights along Pennsylvania Avenue. "There are no other elevators like it in the world," Showers says.

Eiffel Tower


Just as amazing as Gustave Eiffel's tower built for the 1889 World's Fair was Otis' customized elevators, designed to climb up the monument's curved legs. "There was so much engineering they had to do," Showers says. While modernized a century later, the cars still carry visitors to the observation deck.

Luxor Hotel

Las Vegas

When this 1993 Las Vegas Strip casino-hotel opened in 1993, it did the pharaohs one better. There's no need to climb to the top of the 30-story, pyramid-shaped building. Elevators do the work, including 16 that travel the walls at a 39-degree angle, which have led to their nickname: inclinators.

Empire State Building

New York

Without the elevator, it would have been impossible to construct skyscrapers like this 1931 art deco beauty. "It was the world's tallest building at the time, and had the longest run of any express elevator," Showers says. The so-called "robot elevators" also amazed the public because they were among the first that visitors could summon by pushing a button. Otis is now installing a new energy-efficient elevator system that generates electricity as it works, much like a hybrid car.

The Biltmore

Asheville, N.C.

George Vanderbilt's extraordinary mountain mansion was the first building in the region to have an elevator. Originally used to transport guests and luggage, it now serves disabled visitors. While it has been overhauled, the cars still have ornate metalwork and brass fixtures. "It's one of the oldest operating systems in the world today," Showers says.
CN Tower


The tallest freestanding structure in the Western Hemisphere offers guests an express elevator ride that takes less than a minute to reach an observation deck 1,136 feet above Canada's largest city. The glass-door cars offer spectacular views on the way up, and at the top, it's often possible to see more than 100 miles away past Niagara Falls. The bravest visitors can even walk outside the tower on a sloped roof while attached to a safety harness.