Before elevators and escalators, how did people get up and down? Stairs, of course! Let’s take a closer look at this invention…one step at a time.

A flight of stairs — also called a stairway, staircase, stairwell or just stairs — does the simple job of dividing a large vertical gap into smaller vertical gaps called steps. Without stairways, we’d have a hard time climbing to the tops of buildings…or buildings would be a lot shorter!

Stairways can take many different forms. They can be straight or round. They can also consist of multiple straight pieces positioned at angles and connected by small landings.

Stairways are made up of individual steps. Each step consists of a tread and a riser. The tread is the flat part that you step on. The riser is the vertical (up and down) part between each tread in the stairway.

So how many steps are in a “flight” of stairs? A flight of stairs is usually defined as an uninterrupted series of stairs. This can mean the set of stairs between floors or the set of stairs between landings. The term is used in many different ways and there’s really no set rule for what can be called a flight of stairs.

The number of stairs in a flight can vary widely. It depends upon the building they’re located in and how much space there is between floors in the building. The next time you climb a flight of stairs, count the stairs. For example, how many stairs are in the flights of stairs in your school? You may be surprised to learn that the number of stairs in a flight can even vary within the same building!

If you’re wondering why it’s called a “flight” of stairs, it’s probably because “flight” is a metaphor for a journey upward — only using the feet instead of wings! The next time you run up a flight of stairs, think of yourself as “flying” up them.

And speaking of taking the stairs, do you climb stairs when an elevator or an escalator is available? If you don’t, you might want to reconsider the next time you have the chance. Climbing stairs can give your body much needed exercise during the day.

If you really want to burn some calories, you might want to consider climbing the longest stairway in the world. The service stairway for the Niesenbahn railway near Spiez, Switzerland, holds the Guinness World Record for longest stairway. Its 11,674 steps stretch up for over a mile!

14 Join the Discussion

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    • Wow, Carlos, how great that you experienced so many WONDERful sites and sounds while you were in St. Augustine! It sounds like you were full of Wonders and curiosity during that class trip, like learning about the oldest city in the U.S. and visiting the lighthouse! We hope you rehydrated with lots of water after all those stairs! Have a Wonder-filled day! :)

  1. I was wrong! But today’s WONDER was sort of interesting. I can’t guess tomorrow’s WONDER because it seems too broad.
    By the way, did you make a WONDER about movie animation and/or the Beatles???

    Emily =)

  2. I really have no idea how many stairs are in a flight! I do take the stairs a lot, whenever I go to my dad’s work I take the stairs and race him in the elevator! Did I mention he’s on the fourth floor, so there are 6 flights of stairs? It gives me very good exercise! I think most people should do it too.

  3. That video was very cute and seems like a lot of fun! I wish they would do that to a staircase in my town! Today’s wonder was very interesting and also very true. I usually see more people using an escalator or escalator over the stairs. I try to use the stairs half of the time and the other half of the time, I do not give any thought to using the stairs and just go straight to the elevator! I think one of those creations would be useful in a place like a mall because whenever I go there, I only see about 2 people using the stairs! I wonder who had that brilliant idea!?!

    • We LOVE WONDERers like you, Gracie! Thanks for commenting about our stairs Wonder today– we love that you make an effort to switch it up when you’re moving from one floor to the next. We hope you continue to Wonder about cool inventions like stairs that we use every day! :)

  4. I went to a skyscraper in Chicago when I was a kid that had a glass external elevator, and me and my family ended up having to take the stairs because of my fear of heights. There were tons of stairs and I forgot how many there were or the name of the building, for it was a while ago.

    • Hey there, Wonder Boy! We bet the skyscraper in Chicago you visited was called The Sears Tower! It’s now known as the Willis Tower because another company purchased the building and changed its name. We are glad to hear that you experienced one of the tallest building in America and you that you faced your fear of heights, too! We bet you got quite a workout after walking up and down all those stairs! Thanks for sharing your story with us, Wonder Boy! :)

    • That’s great news, Wonder Friend Beyonce! We’re so happy this Wonder inspired you and made you smile, too! HOORAY! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How many stairs are in a flight?
  • What are the parts of a step?
  • Where is the longest stairway in the world?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

So how often do you take the stairs? If an elevator or an escalator is available, do you take it? Or do you get some extra exercise by taking the stairs?

Most of us could use a little more exercise in our daily routines. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator is one good way to make a small difference in your daily routine. You never know how much that little bit of extra exercise might help you.

Here are a few other tips you can use to get a little extra exercise into your day without a trip to the gym:

  • Walk! If you think about your usual routine, there are probably many times when you ride a bus, take a car or ride your bike to some place that you could just as easily walk to. So walk instead! It may take a few minutes longer, but your body will thank you!
  • Do squats or jumping jacks while you brush your teeth. Dentists recommend that you brush your teeth for two minutes, so move around instead of just standing there!
  • Take your pet for a walk. Pets need exercise, too! If you have dogs, play with them in the yard once each day, or take them for a walk around the neighborhood!

Still Wondering

In National Geographic Xpeditions’ You Can Climb Any Mountain lesson, children think about the skills and qualities required to be a good mountain climber.

Wonder What’s Next?

What’s tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day going to be about? It could be just about anything. You name it!

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