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!

40 Join the Discussion

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars  (64 votes, avg. 3.80 out of 5)
  1. To tell you the truth, there is one more place to find an escalator, and that is Universal. I know because I went there in November, they have them to go up and down and walk far. There are some escalators to help you go to the parking lot to the main square. :) :) :)

    • Wow, we bet there are many escalators at Universal, Carlos! They help all the people visiting the park get from place to place, and ride to ride! How cool! :)

  2. I liked today’s wonder. I like riding escalators when I am at a mall or places like that. I think you should do a wonder on pig latin. Thank you for today’s wonder! It was cool! ;) :) :)

    • Escalators are really helpful when we need to get from place to place in a short amount of time. We are so happy to hear that you enjoyed out traveling Wonder, Berkleigh! Thanks for sharing your very own Wonder, too! :)

    • We’re so glad you enjoyed our moving Wonder, Shubham! It’s so much fun to learn new things with a great Wonder Friend like you! :)

  3. This is a WONDERful wonder. I like escalators so it was perfect for me. I didn’t know anything about escalators until I read this wonder.

    • How cool, Mary Kate! We’re glad to know that you learned something new about those nifty escalators! We hope they help you to get around soon! Happy New Year! :)

  4. I am not a big fan of escalators and they go so slow. But, otherwise it was a great wonder and I loved it. Good job wonderopolis!!!!
    Keep doing what your doing. Our class loves wonderopolis!

    -Colin was here- :) :0 :D

    • Well thanks so much, Wonder Friend Colin! We’re glad you enjoyed our slow but steady transportation Wonder with us! Thanks for saying hello today, we’re so glad you and your Wonder Classmates enjoy your visits to Wonderopolis! :)

    • Great point, Billy Bob Joe! We think it’s great that you’re thinking of “what if” situations… “what if” the escalator isn’t in service? It’s still available to use like you would walk up and down stairs! Nice work! :)

    • HOORAY, that’s great to hear, Wonder Friend Lovely Girl! It sounds like you learned a lot about escalators; we think it’s so great that you connected this Wonder to what you’re learning in school, too! HOORAY! :)

  5. How much does a escalator cost? Does the bottom cost more than the top? Does the top cost more then the bottom? Do you buy the parts separately?

    • That’s a SUPER question, Wonder Friends Sydney, Grant, and Seci! Escalators are sold for very specific needs, like those a mall or hotel might have. There is a lot of thought that goes into the types of escalators, and it depends on the size of the building and how many people will be using the escalator. You have some great questions and we’re thrilled that you’re WONDERing with us! Nice work! :)

    • Thanks for sharing your comment about escalators, Sammy! We’re so happy you’ve been movin’ along with us today! See you soon! :)

    • Hi Sydney! Thanks for WONDERing with us! Escalators are fun to ride up and down, and even press the buttons! Keep WONDERing! :)

  6. Alex- Why do people walk on the escalators?
    Matthew- I have never been on an escalator.
    Brayden- Ihave been on an escalator before.
    Makaylah-I fell on the escalator before.
    AMber- I went to an escalator with my mom. We went up and down at the mall.
    Javion-I went on an escalator and it stopped.
    Class- We watched the Stuck on the Escalaotor…To learn how to solve problems
    Mrs. Utter- My dad fixes elevators. He once had to fix an escalator, because a little boy’s shoelace got caught in the stairs.
    Some of us get nervous about riding an escalator. We are nervous about tripping, get stuck, going down the escalator, it moves fast, and you could fall.

    • Thank you for sharing your personal connections to this Wonder of the Day, Mrs. Utter’s Class! We really enjoyed reading all of them! We’re really glad there is always a hand rail to hold on to while riding the escalator, so that we don’t lose our balance! :)

    • Hi, Rennob! We think the idea for escalators probably arose out of the need to get people from one floor to the next without needing to climb steps. Thanks for WONDERing with us! :)

    • Great questions, quiana! Maybe you can do more research about escalators at your library. We are glad you enjoyed this WONDER! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Who invented escalators?
  • How did the name “escalator” come about?
  • Where is the longest escalator system in the world?

Wonder Gallery

EscalatorVimeo Video

Try It Out

We hope today’s Wonder of the Day took you on a delightful ride! Be sure to check out the following activities with a friend or family member:

  • Ready to ride an escalator? Grab a friend or family member and take a field trip to the nearest escalator you can find. If you live in a small town, it may be difficult to find an escalator close by. Some places you can check for escalators include shopping malls, airports, public transportation terminals, and colleges or universities. When you find an escalator, have some fun riding it in both directions. Pay careful attention to how it works. Take a few pictures and do some measurements. How quickly does it travel? Can you calculate an approximate speed for the escalator? For example, estimate the distance it travels and then measure how long it takes to make that trip. Using these figures, you should be able to estimate an approximate speed for the escalator.
  • If you can’t find an escalator nearby, that’s OK! You can play engineer instead. Can you think of where you’d put an escalator if you could put one anywhere? How about an escalator from your bedroom to the front door of your school? That would be convenient, wouldn’t it? Where else would you like to be able to ride an escalator? Think about practical considerations, such as space and cost. Where would it NOT make sense to put an escalator? Have fun thinking about how escalators work and how they might or might not fit into certain spaces.
  • Up for a challenge? Design a people-moving system for the future. Think about today’s crowded cities and how we get around. Also think about renewable sources of energy and pollution. Can you come up with an idea for a system that would move people quickly around a city without using fossil fuels and polluting the environment? How would such a system work? Don’t limit yourself to today’s technology. Be as creative as you can be and dream big. What technologies would need to be developed to bring your system to life? Have fun thinking about the future of transportation!

Still Wondering

In National Geographic Xpeditions’ Trade and Transportation in the United States lesson, children imagine what it would be like to operate a plane, train or truck along a trade route across the United States.

Test Your Knowledge

Wonder What’s Next?

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.

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