Do you like to ride escalators? If you’re like most kids, the answer to that question is a loud “Yes!” And why not? It’s fun to ride up and down those long moving staircases.

When you ride an escalator, you might not realize that it’s probably one of the biggest and most expensive machines you use regularly. Despite their size and cost, though, they’re actually fairly simple machines.

Escalators are basically just long conveyor belts. They have rotating chains that pull a set of stairs in a constant cycle, creating a moving staircase.

With this basic circular motion, they are able to move many people a short distance quickly. Escalators are often featured in areas where many people need to move between two areas quickly but where elevators would be impractical. For example, escalators are commonly found in department stores, shopping malls, hotels, airports, subways, stadiums, and other public buildings.

So who came up with this WONDERful idea to move large numbers of people quickly, usually with no waiting in line? There were actually many people who thought of the idea over time, but many of them never acted upon it.

Nathan Ames patented the first “escalator” in 1859 when he came up with the idea for “revolving stairs.” However, he never made a working model of his concept.

Thirty years later, Leamon Souder patented four separate ideas for escalator-like devices. Like Ames, though, Souder never created working models of any of his ideas.

Finally, in 1892, Jesse W. Reno patented the “Endless Conveyor or Elevator.” He also produced the first working escalator — he called it an “inclined elevator” — and installed it along the Old Iron Pier at Coney Island in New York City in 1896.

Soon afterward, George A. Wheeler patented his own ideas for an escalator. He never built working models of any of his ideas, but Charles Seeberger bought his patents and some of Wheeler’s ideas were used in Seeberger’s prototype escalator that was built by the Otis Elevator Company in 1899.

Seeberger also came up with the name “escalator” in 1900. He put the word together from Latin root words scala, e and tor, which he roughly translated as “means of traversing from.” He intended for the word to be pronounced es-CAL-a-tor. Although it sounds like elevator, Seeberger did not simply name the escalator to be similar to the word elevator.

Today, you can find all sorts of different types of escalators in a wide variety of locations. Perhaps one of the most impressive escalator systems in the world is the Central-Mid-Levels escalator system in Hong Kong. It’s the world’s longest outdoor escalator system with a total length of 2,600 feet!

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Brrr! It’s going to be cold in Wonderopolis tomorrow. Be sure to bundle up as we head to the Arctic to learn more about a familiar polar pal.