Millions of people use escalators every day, whether in subways, shopping malls, train stations, airports, business centers, etc. But only a minority knows its origin and its true functioning. Why do you think escalators have vertical grooves on their steps? Apart from the aesthetic aspect, there is a mechanical reason behind this detail. Explanations.
The short history of escalators ..
The first escalator, also known as the escalator or escalator, was invented by the American Jesse W. Reno. It was patented on March 15, 1892 in the United States. In 1895, he created a novelty on Coney Island in New York: it was a moving sidewalk that transported passengers at an angle of 25 degrees, a variation of the current “conveyor belts” found in shopping malls. His “inclined escalator” as he liked to call it, was first put into service at the Crystal Palace in 1898. It was a perfect alternative to traditional stairs. Its success was of great magnitude, so much so that many countries will in turn develop this concept to better manage urban traffic in large commercial spaces, metro stations or airports.
An escalator is actually a network of wheels and chains that, like a conveyor belt, are driven by an electric motor. Concretely, it involves the arrangement of articulated and inclined steps that flatten and raise to move up or down fairly quickly. For safety reasons, it is also equipped with a mobile ramp where users can rest. Finally, to facilitate entry and exit, the first and last steps blend into a flat surface to align with the ground and allow people to access or exit easily, without fear of falling. Visually speaking, the process can impress young children or dogs who are apprehensive about venturing into it.
But why does the escalator have grooves?
Grooves have their own history and various reasons can justify their presence on escalators. It should be noted that the old models of escalators contained wooden parts with a completely flat surface. But they had major drawbacks: in addition to being slippery, they ignited very easily. This was also the case during the deadly fire at the King’s Cross underground in London on 18 November 1987. An escalator unfortunately caught fire, because of a tiny match that had slipped between the gaps that separate the steps. From then on the wooden steps were swapped for metal models.
For safety reasons, manufacturers have also decided to incorporate vertical grooves. Their advantages are thus multiple:
- The grooves continuously block any falling objects and collect waste to prevent possible failure of the metal plate.
- The grooves also protect the soles of passengers’ shoes, preventing them from getting stuck easily.
- In winter, in rainy weather, moisture accumulates, which increases the risk of falling or slipping. The grooves will thus protect users by draining water and improving the grip of the shoes on the steps.
Good to know : In the case of inclined conveyor belts, for example at the airport or supermarket, the grooves are also designed in such a way that the rollers of luggage trolleys or shopping carts hang on them properly to remain stationary.
Curiosities on escalators
The longest escalators in the world are in Asia. In Japan in particular, in Tokyo more precisely, the escalators of the factories can reach a length of 1.5 km.
Did you know that the world’s longest tourist escalator is nestled within the Grand Canyon of Enshi in central China, Hubei province: This escalator is 688 meters long and it was built from durable materials. It offers a spectacular panorama of the region. Hong Kong also stands out with a grandiose escalator: inscribed on the Guinness Book of Records, the escalator nestled at the Ocean Park amusement park measures no less than 227 meters!
Generally speaking, the strangest and most curious structures are found in Asia. Indeed, in Singapore, Tokyo and Hong Kong, spiral escalators have been built in shopping malls, defying the imagination of designers.
N.B : Japan also has the smallest escalator with only 5 steps to climb 83 cm. A curiosity to discover in the basement of More’s Department Store in Kawasaki.
Europe can also boast impressive escalators. Especially in Italy, especially in Potenza: since 2010, the region has revealed the presence of 1.3 km of escalators. Since the city is built entirely on levels, these developments greatly facilitate the movement of the inhabitants.
See also Here’s what the vertical grooves of escalators are really used for