Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Inventor Alexander Miles and the Automated Elevator Door

Amber Lemus Christian Author
Blogger: Amber Lemus

Photo of inventor and businessman Alexander Miles, public domain
Alexander Miles
Public Domain

Alexander Miles was an American inventor who was both born and passed away in the month of May, so I figured this would be a fitting month to learn about this incredible man.

Alexander was born May 18, 1838 to Michael Miles and Mary Pompy in Ohio. Since he was born in a free state, and was never recorded as enslaved, historians believe that he was a freeman.

After Alexander became of age, he moved to Wisconsin where he made a living as a barber. His innovative talents were already emerging as he created and marketed hair products. While in Wisconsin, he met Candace Dunlap, who was a widow with two children. Though she was four years older than him, they fell in love and married. Together they had one daughter whom they named Grace.

Shortly after the birth of their daughter, they moved to Duluth, Minnesota. Alexander and his wife decided to take a risk and invested their life savings into a real estate office. This proved to be a smart investment for them, and they lived in prosperity in Duluth, even getting a whole block named after them because of his real estate developments. He had also opened a barber shop at the upscale four-story Saint Louis hotel, and his business achievements paved the way for him to become the first African-American member of the Duluth Chamber of Commerce.

It was most likely at the aforementioned hotel that Alexander's innovative mind was exposed to the elevator problem. As the story goes, Alexander was riding in an elevator with his daughter when he realized the dangers of the current door operating system. At this time, the doors could only be operated by either the people inside the elevator, or a dedicated elevator operator. However, people often forgot, or didn't go through the hassle to manually close the doors, which created a danger of people falling into the elevator shaft. In the early days of elevators, it could be quite dangerous and usually resulted in serious injury or death. Alexander thought that if the elevator doors would open and close automatically when leaving and arriving at the various floors, it would create a safer environment. 

Diagram of Alexander Mile's invention

He set to work on a design and came up with a system that utilized a flexible belt attached to the elevator cage, drums to indicate the elevator's position, and various levers and rollers. He was granted a patent for his design on October 11, 1887. It's interesting, because thirteen years prior, an inventor was granted a patent on an automatic elevator door system, however his design never took hold. It was Alexander's design that was used and is even influential in our modern-day elevators. Needless to say, his invention earned a lot of income for him and his family.

Second diagram of his invention
Public Domain

In 1899, at the age of sixty-one, Alexander founded yet another business, The United Brotherhood. It was a life-insurance company specifically formed for African-American customers who were being turned down for coverage from white-owned firms.

By the time of his death on May 7, 1918, Alexander Miles was considered the wealthiest African-American in the Pacific Northwest area. He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007.


Two-time winner of the Christian Indie Award for historical fiction, Amber Lemus inspires hearts through enthralling tales She has a passion for travel, history, books and her Savior. This combination results in what her readers call "historical fiction at its finest".

She lives near the Ozarks in her "casita" with her prince charming. Between enjoying life as a boy mom, and spinning stories out of soap bubbles, Amber loves to connect with readers and hang out on Goodreads with other bookish peoples.

Amber is a proud member of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association. Visit her online at http://www.amberlemus.com/ and download a FREE story by subscribing to her Newsletter!


  1. Thank you for posting today. It was interesting to hear about this man.

    1. Hi Connie, glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for stopping by.