A Model for Essay #1 (Summer 2005)

"The Moving Scala:" On the Escalator"

by Hanan Edrees

Thursday, February 24, 2005
ENGL 302: N09
Dr. Ellen Moody
Paper #1

You’re probably wondering what the word ‘scala’ means. Scala is the Latin word for steps, thus moving steps. It is used as transportation between different levels of buildings, shopping malls, airports, and the list goes on. Today, we refer to these moving steps as escalators, a name Charles Seeberger created. Why do we want a moving staircase if a staircase already exists? Why can’t people just get used to going up and down the stairs without being lazy? Why can’t they use an elevator instead? Escalators benefit humans in many ways. However, if they are misused, escalators can be harmful, maybe even lethal.

Believe it or not, escalators started out in an amusement park, Coney Island. This six foot escalator was used to lift people on the Coney Island dock. The master mind behind this amazing machine was Jesse Reno, who became America’s leading escalator designer in the year 1896. When Seeberger became a member of the Otis Elevator Company in 1899, he re- designed Reno’s invention to produce the first step-type escalator to be used by the public. He did this with the help of the Otis Elevator Company. After four years, the Paris Exhibition displayed four different types of escalators—including Reno’s and Seeberger’s (5). In the 1920s, David Lindquist, a member of the Otis Elevator Company, further improved the Reno and Seeberger inventions to create level steps of the escalators we use today.

These modern escalators are known to be space savers; they move people in crowded places. With time, escalators were being built in subways, department stores, airports, shopping malls, stadiums, and in many other places. They transport people and things from place to place at a quick pace, without being restricted to a loading rate. Interestingly, China has around 60,000 escalators, the largest number of escalators in a given country (1). The world’s longest escalator has a length of 745 feet and is located in Ocean Park, Hong Kong (6). Seven hundred and forty-five feet?! You would probably want to use an elevator instead.

Well, escalators are better than elevators in that they move more people in a shorter distance. An escalator has a higher loading rate than elevators. In order to get on an elevator, you have to wait until the elevator is empty or has enough capacity before reaching its loading rate. However, on an escalator, you can get on at any time because people are getting off while other are getting on. If an elevator stops working while you are in it, you’re stuck in the elevator until some powerful source helps you get out. On the other hand, if an escalator stops working and you are riding it, you can walk up or down the escalator and go back to what you were doing. There’s no need to panic.

Now, that we know some benefits an escalator provides, let’s see how it works. The central part of an escalator is made up of a pair of chains that are looped around two pairs of gears. These gears allow the output speed to decrease while the force that rotates the gears inside the device is increased. This is why you see a slow moving escalator, when in fact the mechanical gears inside the escalator are moving at a much faster rate than what is being observed. An electric motor inside the escalator turns the gears and moves the chains, which in turn move a number of steps (3).

Each step in the escalator is parallel with the ground and has two sets of wheels that rotate on two different tracks. The wheels at the top of the step are attached to the chains that are pulled by the gears. These gears allow the steps to somewhat fall on one another. The wheels at the lower part of the step complete the task of the upper set of wheels (3). Not only are the steps parallel to the ground, but the tracks are also horizontal. Each step contains grooves that fit perfectly with the step before it and after it.

Without an electric motor, these chains, gears, and steps can’t possibly be moving on their own. The electric motor not only rotates the chains, but it also moves the handrails. The handrails are made up of a rubber-like conveyer belt that moves around two huge separate wheels. The pace in which the handrails move is the same pace as the moving steps. This happens in order to provide stability for the rider (3).

Despite the fact that escalators provide stability for the rider, many people are victims of these man-made machines. Some die, and others are critically injured, losing one or more than one body part. People misuse escalators every day. Some people are negligent as to what an escalator can do if it malfunctions or if it is being misused. “In the last ten years, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that there have been thousands of hospital emergency room-treated injuries from escalators. Seventy-five percent of these injuries were due to falls, another 20 percent occurred when hands, feet or shoes were trapped in escalators” (2). Most of these accidents happen because there are no signs that inform the public about safe escalator riding. Some signs are even located on the floor of the escalator as you get off it (4). When do you have time to read that? Shouldn’t you be informed about the risks before you get on the escalator itself? We can probably understand how someone’s shoe laces or clothes get trapped in an escalator. However, how can your fingers get trapped?

Four years ago, I was with my family at a local shopping mall. I was on the first floor, and I wanted to go to the second floor. As I was approaching the escalator, I saw a huge sign that read, “OUT OF ORDER.” Then, I saw emergency medical technicians on the other end of the escalator. I could not see much, however, I saw medical technicians helping a girl no older than 7-years-old. Gauze and bandages were wrapped around her right hand and arm. After that, I realized that her fingers got caught in between the escalator steps! She probably dropped a toy or a candy, and while she was retrieving it, her fingers got stuck.

Young children do not understand that escalators can be dangerous and life threatening. It is the parent’s duty to make sure that their child is not in any position where he or she can become injured by this machine. The only safe way to ride an escalator is by standing up, facing forward, staying away from the sidewall of the escalator, and keeping a firm grip on the handrail.

As with any man-made machine, it comes with advantages and mishap. Escalators transport people and things place to place, right and left or up and down. The main part of these machines is the electric motor, which rotates the chains, gears, and handrails. The motor is unique because it moves the handrails and steps at the same pace providing stability for the rider. In this case, an escalator is better than an elevator because if it stops working, you can just walk down or up the escalator stairs without having to wait until someone bails you out. However, people can get injured badly on escalators. The main way to prevent this is by facing forward and staying away from the sidewall of the escalator. My advice to you is to be careful when riding one. It’s not an amusement park ride.


  1. Brake, Alan G. “Up, Down, Across: Elevators, Escalators, and Moving Sidewalks.” Architecture, 93 (2004): 80.
  2. “Escalators Overview.” Patent Pending. 2005. 22 Feb. 2005 .
  3. Harris, Tom. “How Escalators Work.” HowStuffWorks, Inc. 2005. 18 Feb. 2005 .
  4. Marshall, Anthony. “Temper Escalator Hazards by Posting Prominent Warning Signs.” Hotel and Motel Management, 215 (2000): 10.
  5. “No. 250: Magic Stairways.” Engines of Our Ingenuity. By John Lienhard. 1998. 18 Feb. 2005 .
  6. “The World’s Longest Escalator.” Journal of Properties Management. 68 (2003): 11.

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