Alexander Miles
Alexander Miles

On this day, October 11, in 1887, Alexander Miles patented the electric elevator.

Miles did not invent the first elevator; however, he patented key design improvements that are still used today. Prior to Miles’ invention of the electric elevator (U.S. pat#371,207), most elevators were steam-powered. Miles also invented automatically opening and closing doors, improving safety by protecting riders from the elevator shaft.

Before automatic doors, an elevator’s doors had to be pulled closed by the elevator conductor. If the conductor forgot to close them or there was no conductor, the exposed shaft posed a safety hazard to those in the elevator as well as those on floors where the elevator was not.

Alexander-MilesIn the early 1870s, Miles met and married his wife, Candace J. Dunlap, a white woman from New York, in Winona, Minnesota. The couple had a daughter and moved to Duluth. It is said Miles came up with the idea for automatic elevator doors when he was riding in one with his daughter and realized the dangers. In addition to inventing, Miles worked as a barber and invested in Duluth real estate. He was once considered the wealthiest man in the Northwest.

Miles was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007.