This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. This blog is not supported by advertising, it's supported by the generosity of my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

The confusing, and frightening, introduction of "Automatic Elevators" in Phoenix


I've been on elevators a lot in my life. I used to work in downtown Phoenix, and I knew how to operate them - you pushed a button (either up or down), waited for the elevator doors to open, got out of the way of people getting off, got in and pushed a button for the floor that you wanted. To me, nothing could have been simpler.

I've never been in an elevator that was operated by a person. I've seen them in movies, and read about them, but that's all. But if you lived in Phoenix before the 1940s, that all you would have seen, and all your parents would have seen, going back to the invention of elevators at the turn of the century. A person would stand inside of the elevator, you would tell them what floor you wanted, and they would operate it. But all of that changed when elevators were automated. And it must have been confusing, and frightening for a lot of people.

I'm not kidding here. When the elevators in the Professional Building were equipped to be operated automatically (with no person in them), it was quite a shock to the people who worked in the building. In addition to pamphlets being printed up, there was a presentation that Valley Bank employees could go see, including a movie showing how it was done. And like any new technology, there were people who resisted it, and couldn't understand why something as dangerous and complex as operating an elevator should be trusted to a little button. What if something went wrong? You would be trapped in a box suspended hundreds of feet in the air. Trust a little button? Really?

I always think of this when I teach a new technology. What seems simple after you've gotten used to it doesn't look the same to people who are seeing it for the first time. When I worked for Bank One, I helped introduce people to an "automated teller machine" (ATM) both professionally and personally, because I thought that they were pretty cool. In Los Angeles, in the '80s, I sought out gas stations that had "Pay at the Pump", because once I saw how fast and convenient it was, I had no interest standing around talking to people - I treated gas stations as "pit stops".

Technology is technology to me, whether it's computers, or "new fangled push-button elevators". And human nature has never changed - some people resist, some people catch on eventually, and some people are early adopters.

Image at the top of this post: elevator doors in the Professional Building in the 1940s, Central Avenue and Monroe, Phoenix, Arizona. I'd like to believe that I would have been one of the brave people who walked into them, and pushed a button!


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