​Almanac: Escalators

And now a page from our "Sunday Morning" Almanac: August 9th, 1859, 156 years ago today ... the day the patent for a prototype escalator, called "revolving stairs," was awarded to a man named Nathan Ames.

No picture of Ames seems to exist ... nor, apparently, was a single working model of his impractical triangle design ever built.

From Nathan Ames' design for "revolving stairs." Google Patents

It was left to others to take the next steps.

In 1895 an inventor named Charles Seeburger was the first to use the term "escalator," combining the Latin words "scala" (for steps) with "elevates" (for rise).

In 1896, a different inventor, Jesse Reno, installed one of his designs at New York's Coney Island, where it was billed as a kind of thrill ride.

By the early 1900s, the Otis Elevator Company had acquired most of the escalator patents, and the moving staircase was quickly becoming a familiar sight in department stores and other public places.

Familiar enough, in fact, to win it a comic role in Charlie Chaplin's 1916 film, "The Floorwalker,"

A spiral escalator at the Yamako Department Store in Kofu, Japan. Mitsubishi Electronics

Not that escalator design has stood still since then.

Though a few of the earliest escalators with wooden steps still survive, most escalators long since have adopted steps of metal.

And early this century, Mitsubishi Electric turned heads by installing a SPIRAL escalator at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.

The escalator even made political history this past June, when Donald Trump rode one to enter the presidential race.

Donald Trump rides an escalator to a press event to announce his candidacy for the U.S. presidency, at Trump Tower on June 16, 2015 in New York City. Christopher Gregory/Getty Images

With the escalator (and its cousin, the moving sidewalk) ubiquitous at airports and train stations worldwide, a much-quoted ancient Chinese proverb is more true today than ever:

"A journey of a thousand miles CAN begin with just a single step."

To watch Charlie Chaplin in "The Floorwalker" click on the video embed below.

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