(p. 10) There are 69,381 passenger elevators in this vertically obsessed city, and nearly all of them promise a journey about as exotic and exciting as making toast. You get in, you push a button, the doors open a few seconds later at your destination.
But there remain quite a few machines, manually controlled and chauffeur-driven, where climbing aboard is more like taking a short trip on the Orient Express.
. . .
Most of the elevators are in residential buildings, but a few war horses serve heavy duty in commercial complexes.
Collectively they form a hidden museum of obsolete technology and anachronistic employment, a network of cabinets of wonder staffed round the clock. No one knows how many there are, exactly. The city Department of Buildings offered a list of more than 600, but spot checks indicated that most had gone push-button long ago. On the other hand, officials at Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, to which most doormen and elevator operators belong, said they knew of only one or two.
A non-exhaustive field survey this fall turned up 53 buildings with manual passenger elevators. There are undoubtedly dozens more, but probably not hundreds.
Why they still exist in such relative profusion, when the city is down to its last few seltzer men and its final full-time typewriter repair shop, when replacement parts are no longer made and must be machined by hand, is a question with many answers. But sentiment plays a large part.
. . .
Push-button elevators had actually been around since the 1890s, but were not practical for larger buildings. They were slow. Initially they could make only one stop per trip. Later, they could make multiple stops, but only in the order the buttons were pressed.
It took until 1950 for Otis to perfect a push-button system smart enough to handle the traffic and shifting demands for service over the course of the day in a multi-elevator building. The company’s Autotronic system, Otis boasted in advertisements, “minimizes the human element” and “gives tenants a sprightly feeling of independence.”
The elevator man’s fate was sealed.
For the full story, see:
ANDY NEWMAN. “Riding a Time Capsule to Apt. 8G.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun., DEC. 17, 2017): 10.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 15, 2017, and has the title “Riding a Time Capsule to Apartment 8G.”)