12
$\begingroup$

Escalators, from what I've seen, were created in 1891 using iron. However, with the way they collapse into themselves, is it even possible to make an escalator using technology from the 16th century, without iron? For example, an escalator made out of wood? If so, how can it be done?

To add some further detail, I'm attempting to create an environment similar to the Renaissance era with some modern technology intact, just invented in an alternate fashion. The idea of a working escalator came to mind, which was invented just 200 years later using iron, and a type of conveyor belt using belts and tracks. From what I'm seeing, I don't see that type of technology existing in the 16th century, unless there's an alternate way to recreate it?

EDIT: I didn't think this question would get this active, wow! To answer a common question, yes, other metals and alloys that are not iron are allowed. I do know that iron has existed as long as most other metals. My wording was a little off originally. I meant to state that the first patented "endless conveyor / elevator" was done by Jesse W. Reno in 1892, so my question is more focused on how it can be done alternatively from this patented, well-known way, but in the 16th century. The water wheel way is sounding really interesting so far.

$\endgroup$
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ You want the escalators all wood, including cogs and pulley blocks? Brass may be an alternative to iron. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Oct 22 at 19:23
  • 12
    $\begingroup$ The London underground used to have wooden escalators. Doesn't anymore... $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Oct 22 at 19:23
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ I can assure you that in the 16th century they had iron. Actually, in some place, e.g., Asia Minor, they had iron two thousand years before the 16th century. And the first escalators were made more of wood than of iron anyway; see the infamous King's Cross Fire for the consequences. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Oct 22 at 19:55
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ If I got a slave to carry me up a hill, does that count? $\endgroup$ – Nelson Oct 23 at 5:47
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Make that almost three thousand years: The Iron Age in Asia Minor started around the 13th century BC... By the 1st century AD, Romans had extensively automated the process of extracting and processing iron ore (for example, Pliny the Elder - in his Naturalis Historia circa 75AD - mentions using water-wheel powered tilt hammers to crush the mined ore), for an output in excess of 35,000 metric tonnes of iron per year. $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Oct 23 at 10:32
18
$\begingroup$

Yes, provided you have a power source.

Water wheels have been used and developed for centuries (or even millennia) to irrigate, to drain, and to power mechanisms in mills to save labour. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_wheel#History)

Adapting this kind of system to lift people on a set of moving platforms would be a new engineering problem for a very ubiquitous, well-developed and versatile technology. And don't worry about how the steps "collapse"...there's nothing special about it that requires they be metal. (Escalators with wooden steps already do exist in a few places, such as Macy's in New York: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/macys-wooden-escalators )

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Nice, I was going to add my own answer involving water wheels but then I saw this. $\endgroup$ – overlord - Reinstate Monica Oct 22 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ This is a great answer, and it seems some of the others reference back to this one. Thank you! $\endgroup$ – lynxbyte Oct 25 at 23:18
10
$\begingroup$

St. Anna tunnel in Antwerp features rare if not unique wooden escalators.

The escalators were made in the 1930s. They were a novelty then and still are now, thanks to the rarity of wooden escalators. The beautiful woodwork is remarkably preserved, making this a real treat for anyone tired of the modern, more unsightly escalators that dominate pretty much everywhere else.

Though they were made in 1930, they are made of wood, so wood can be used to make escalators. The problem is that you don't have an engine to power them, unless you want to use some large wheel powered by humans or beasts of burden.

And of course, lacking rubber you can also forget about rubber handrails, but for the safety standards of the time those are an unnecessary luxury. Or you can make them with ropes.

Such a device, due to the high manufacturing, conducting and maintenance costs, would probably be just the fancy curiosity in the house of some eccentric and excessively wealthy patron.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Why do you need rubber for handrails? $\endgroup$ – Ryan_L Oct 22 at 19:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Kings Cross had a wooden escalator before the fire: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King%27s_Cross_fire $\endgroup$ – Slarty Oct 22 at 23:00
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Are all parts of the escalators made from wood, including the mechanism ? $\endgroup$ – collapsar Oct 23 at 8:59
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You could also just make the handrails stationary of nicely polished wood. The hands wood probably still glide. Or if not, then you would just move your hands. The escalator is not fast anyways. It would remove a lot of complexity from the system. $\endgroup$ – Jens Oct 23 at 10:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Leather would work. You want something that the users can rest on safely, while NOT trapping hands or so on, which could happen with sections. You don't really want a stationary hand-rail either, that could lead to people holding on and falling. Leather straps over polished wood as @DarrelHoffman suggests would be a good solution. $\endgroup$ – Baldrickk Oct 23 at 16:05
2
$\begingroup$

When you consider what was done with treadwheels long before that, a lot of progress was made already. These were human-powered machines often used to power cranes.

So it's nearly there apart from the power source and linked belt.

Power: The idea of slaves or animals walking on a treadwheel to power an escalator springs to mind.

Belt An entirely wooden (including the chain) bike has been made - scale up the chain (it would be much better with brass or bronze bearing parts)

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

The first canal locks were built in the 16th century, so maybe you could do something with small rafts that get floated ever upward in a series of small locks?

It would be quite slow by our standards but could be quite pleasant, particularly if there was a table and chairs and a pot of tea on each raft.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

The tension on the chain of steps will be significant, and wooden bearings will wear out quickly. I doubt the modern examples of wooden escalators had wholly wooden mechanisms. That being said, there may be workarounds assuming the most simpleminded copy into wood isn't strong enough.

In his book How To, Randall Munroe says that a loaded escalator draws about 10 kilowatts of power. I just checked the power output of a Dutch windmill and it comes to around 18 kw, so you should be good on that score. I would imagine a waterwheel to be in the same range.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.