Alexander Miles; The Brain Behind Elevator doors

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Alexander Miles was born on the 18th of May 1838 in Minnesota.  He was an African-American inventor recognized for designing an elevator that was able to open and close its own doors and the elevator shaft doors.

Miles was awarded a patent – U.S patent 371,207 – on the 11th of October 1887. In 2007, his name was inducted in the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Alexander Miles marriage

Alexander was born to Michael and Mary Miles. When he grew up, he moved to Wisconsin where he earned a living as a barber. Later on, he moved to Winona, where he met and married his wife. They had a daughter in 1876 and shortly after her birth, the family relocated to Duluth, Minnesota.

Alexander Miles Invention

After the family moved to Duluth, Alexander operated a barbershop in the four-story St. Louis Hotel and purchased a real estate office. At the time, his wife was a dressmaker. Miles turned out to be the first black member of the Duluth Chamber of Commerce. In 1884, Alexander Miles built a three-story brownstone building on West Superior Street. Subsequently, the area became known as the Miles Block.

At this time, Miles was inspired to work on elevator door mechanisms.

While he was riding in an elevator with his young daughter, Alexander saw the risk associated with an elevator shaft door carelessly left ajar. This led him to draft his design for automatically opening and closing elevator doors and applied for a patent. Prior to his invention, the opening and closing of the doors of the shaft and elevator had to be completed manually by either the elevator operator or by passengers. This he thought would contribute to the hazards of operating an elevator.

Alexander attached a flexible belt to the cage of the elevator. When this belt came in contact with drums positioned along the elevator shaft just above and below the floors, the elevator shaft doors got to operate at the right times. So, the elevator doors themselves were programmed through a series of levers and rollers.

Before working on elevator engineering, he experimented with the creation of hair products.

In 1900, Alexander and his family moved to Chicago where he created an insurance agency. This was aimed at eliminating discriminatory treatment of blacks.  Miles stated that insurance companies kept on holding out discriminative rates to colored people. In 1900, it was assumed that Alexander was the richest colored man in the Northwest.

Alexander Miles’ death and legacy

Alexander Miles died on the 7th of May 1918.

The effect of his elevator patent is still seen in recent designs. Up till today, the automatic opening and closing of elevator and elevator shaft doors remains a regular feature.

His name was inducted in the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007.

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