The first shadowy traces of ropeway history emanated from the rugged Asiatic countries of China, India and Japan where steep mountains cover 82% of the land. It was by intuition that men imitated the activities of the apes and monkeys and considered using a fiber rope to traverse the chasms blocking the intended path. Suspension in a rude harness eased the load and allowed a rest as the loop was slid along the rope track.

(Graphic Source: ELEVATOR WORLD, October 1967)



One of the first mentions of a ropeway is in the Japanese history, "Taihetki." It relates how an Emperor of Japan escaped over a precipitous valley about 650 years ago when surrounded by enemy forces. The conveyance was a basket platform, allowing him to carry a few possessions. The oriental historian called this rude transfer mechanism the "Yaen" or "Wild Monkey" and even today a simple Japanese ropeway for conveying timber carries this name.

(Graphic Source: ELEVATOR WORLD, October 1967)



When the rope bridge broke in India, the alternative was to haul oneself along a primitive "track rope" strung across the river.

(Graphic Source: Elevator World)

(f-5b-5, f-5b-6)

Animals, a prime source of power, were conveyed across difficult terrain although heavier tackle, pulleys and substantial braces at the terminals would have been necessary to transport the horse in the left graphic. In the right graphic, a beast of burden is involved with the conveying process.


In this highly stylized medieval print, a man powers a windlass, and one rope carries out the function of both a "haul" and "track" rope. This a great deal of equipment to move such a small basket, but it does signify how supplies and the occasional visitor were lifted to monasteries built high on pinnacles to assure security and meditation



The next basic improvement in the ropeway system was the addition of a "haul rope" to the basic "track rope." Another Japanese wood cut indicates those on one side of a chasm using baskets to convey personnel and material from one side to the other. Although one load seems to have counterbalanced another, the total pressure of the ropes and loads on the terminals would have been considerable. Much thought must have been given to adequate anchoring devices and the use of pulleys.

(Graphic Source: ELEVATOR WORLD, October 1967)


In this graphic, the pulley is clearly evident in several locations. The men crossing a river were probably being conveyed in a kind of ferry, one man does the hauling and the others -- better attired -- are enjoying the ride! Hopefully, the ladder does more than afford a step up to the passenger box, for the stress upon the two masts must have been considerable -- even with wedges staked at the base!

(Graphic Source: ELEVATOR WORLD, October 196)


Although a work by Venetian Fausto Veranzio in 1616 illustrates a bi-cable passenger ropeway, the industry credits Dutchman Wybe Adam with the first successful bi-cable operational system in 1644. His constantly moving cars upon a hemp rope were used to construct a hilltop fortress in Danzig.

(Graphic Source: ELEVATOR WORLD, October 1967)


An important patent holder of the period was Charles Hodgson, a British engineer. His sketches illustrate both mono- and bi-cable types of ropeways. He is thought of, however, as the father of the mono-cable which has importance down to our day -- one rope supporting and hauling cars. These are shown conveying lumber, but the affinity to the modern electric mono-rail passenger car can be seen.

(Graphic Source: ELEVATOR WORLD, October 1967)

(f-5b-14; f-5b-16)

The originator of the "standard coupling" in the early 1870s was the Austrian von Obach whose sketches show the essentials of the present-day circulating ropeway. All elements are present except for the track and hauling rope tension weights. Obach’s coupling allowed cars to be engaged and attached to the trackway -- a major breakthrough that changed the nature of ropeway systems, increasing their flexibility and popularity. Obach, the only ropeway manufacturer in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, later was purchased by Pohlig which later combined with Adolf Bleichert, another Austrian pioneer.

(Graphic Source: ELEVATOR WORLD, October 1967)


In 1871, pioneer von Ducker installed a 500-meter-long system in Germany, that descended under the action of gravity and was returned by means of a winch and rope. Two years later, von Ducker erected a continuously running system near Metz with couplings between the car and the rope; however, the originator of the all-important "standard coupling" was Obach, an Austrian, who had obtained his patent the year before. His sketches are remarkable in that all the essentials of the present-day circulating ropeway are present, except the tension weights for the track and hauling ropes. Obach's coupling, which allowed cars to be dis-engaged and reattached to the trackway, was a major breakthrough and radically changed the nature of the ropeway systems, increasing their flexibility and popularity. The firm of Obach, the only ropeway manufacturer in the then Austro-Hungarian Empire, was purhcased by J. Pohlig upon the inventor's death in 1887. Today, the Pohlig firm continues in business, having combined with the company founded by the earliest of the German pinoeers, Adolf Bleichert.


In far-off Knoxville, Tennessee, a bi-cable circulating system with a two-passenger bucket made news in 1893. However, government officials on both sides of the ocean were skeptical of sky-rider safety until major breakthroughs the following year at the Exhibition of Milan.

(Graphic Source: ELEVATOR WORLD, October 1967)


The Milan Exhibition of 1894 brought this newspaper comment, “Ceretti & Tanfani’s novelty aerial ride has delighted the visiting public. Elegant open cars, forming a strange cross between a boat and a basket, suspended by metal ropes many meters above the ground, run non-stop in either direction over a course of considerable length. There is no danger, no jolting, only the pleasant sensation of cleaving the air, floating between earth and sky, watching from above the swarm of visitors in the gardens below."

(Graphic Source: ELEVATOR WORLD, October 1967)

(f-5a-4; f-5b-21)

Following the successful experiment in Milan, Ceretti & Tanfani built a number of circulating passenger ropeways at expositions throughout the world, including 1896 at Geneva; Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro in 1896; across the River Po at Turin in 1898 and at Vienna and Osaka in 1912. The installation in Japan is illustrated.

(Graphic Source: ELEVATOR WORLD, October 1967)

(f-5a-5, f-5a-2, f-5b, f-5a-1)

Installations by Ceretti & Tanfani in 1926 in Cortina, 1928 in Kyoto and 1929 in Barcelona indicate the evolution in cabin design.

(Graphic Source: Ceretti & Tanfani)


At the beginig of the 20th Century, the “jig-back:, circulating, “to and fro” or reciprocating passenger ropeways were becoming common place. In 1908, Von Roll’s “Wetterhorn” system in Grindlewald, Switzerland, featured fully locked track rope, tensioned by a counterweight, DC motor drive, gasoline auxiliary engine and safety brakes on the car hanger. The passengers moved to a 1,380-foot height at a speed of 150 feet per minute.

(Graphic Source: ELEVATOR WORLD, October 1967)


Whereas the Von Roll installation operated between only two trestles, Ceretti & Tanfani’s Merano, Italy installation in 1912 incorporated the use of 39 trestles, establishing the kind of system that would allow transport over highly irregular mountainside profiles. The capacity was 16 persons traveling at 250 fpm.

(Graphic Source: ELEVATOR WORLD, October 1967)


The promoters of the Century of Progress Exposition of 1933 in Chicago had planned to erect a tower to exceed the Eiffel Tower as a centerpiece. However, the economic Depression made such expenditure impossible. The substitute was an elevated aerial ropeway or "tramway" system operating between two 628-foot towers, 2,000 feet apart. Streamlined gondolas - rocket cars carried passengers across the Chicago River at a height of 210 feet. No doubt at least one elevator operated in each stanchion, taking viewers to what appears to be a viewing platform on atop each.

The New York World's Fair of 1939-1940 was noted for political ramifications rather than transit. The flags at the French and Polish Pavilions were flown at half-mast; the Japanese Pavilion, mean to have permanence, was destroyed. The Soviet Union Pavilion, popular in 1939, was demolished in 1940 when Hitler and Stalin signed their non-aggression pact.

The Gallery solicits information concerning these elevators.

(Graphic Source: World's Fair)


The German firm of Pohlig contributed a spectacular gondola system at the harbor of Rio de Janeiro in 1912, far from the usual habitat of such ropeways in the snowy peaks of Central Europe. The system, completed in two stages to the top of Pao de Acucar (Sugar Loaf Mountain), involved no trestles. The first span covered a distance of 631 yards while the leg to the top was a length of 878 yards.

(Graphic Source: ELEVATOR WORLD, October 1967)

(f-5b-28, f-5b-27, f-5b-29)

The cableway installed across the famed Niagara Falls Whirlpool had an international flavor being built in Spain to connect Canada with the U.S. Designed by Torres y Quevado, a noted aeronautical engineer, the system spans 1,800 feet and clears the rapids by 150 feet. The huge steel lacework car has a capacity of 24 seated passengers, 24 standees and a conductor. The car weighs seven tons when fully loaded and was tested at three times that capacity before becoming operational. (Graphic Source: ELEVATOR WORLD, October 1967)

(f-5b-25; f-5b-26)

When World War I exploded in Central Europe, Italy and Austria found themselves in separate camps. Both country’s Alpinist troops sought to dominate the ridges of the Dolomites that formed a natural boundary between them. The years from 1914 to 1918 saw history’s most ferocious mountain warfare fought in this region’s high altitudes where the front became as stalemated as that between France and Germany. Almost 2,200 ropeways were operated by the Italians and over 400 by the Austrians, almost all of which were portable. Initially, the aerial transport carried timber and other material for bunkers, along with howitzers and ammunition. Later, stretcher carriers lowered casualties to hospitals much as helicopters of our day carry stretchers outboard from the front to first aid stations in the rear.


(Graphic Source: ELEVATOR WORLD, October 1967)

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