The National Business League

Founded by Dr. Booker T. Washington – August 23, 1900


Alexander Miles

Alexander Miles

Elevator technology

Small conveniences can add up to make a big difference in the safety and efficiency of our daily lives. Elevator doors that open and close on their own are a staple of modern office buildings, hotels, and other public spaces, thanks to inventor Alexander Miles.

Born in 1838, Miles spent the vast majority of his life in the Great Lakes region. He had a successful career as a barber, first in Wisconsin and then in Duluth, Minnesota, where he became the first Black member of the city’s Chamber of Commerce. During his time in Duluth, Miles opened a barbershop in a four-story hotel, purchased a real estate office, and built a three-story brownstone building. Elevator rides these buildings and other public spaces in the city motivated him to invent

Before Miles’ invention, either an elevator operator or passengers themselves needed to manually close both the shaft and elevator doors. This was not only inefficient; it presented a safety hazard if not done correctly. Sadly, it was not uncommon for people to fall to their deaths. Miles’ invention, which he received U.S. patent no. 371,207 for in 1887, consisted of a flexible belt with ends attached to the elevator cage and a sequence of levers and rollers that automated the elevator doors.

At the time, Black entrepreneurs and business owners frequently ran into trouble securing funding and assistance from prominent financial institutions. With the financial success from his business ventures and his invention, Miles wishes to ensure others in his community were protected. He founded a life insurance company after moving to Chicago with his family in 1899.