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Gurney Elevator, Part Two

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Figure 1: Gurney Type J electric elevator, Gurney Elevator Company Bulletin (July 1911)

Part One of this article (ELEVATOR WORLD, May 2013) traced the history of Gurney Elevator Co. from Howard Gurney’s purchase of National Elevator and Machine Co. in 1905 to his 1911 decision to change the company’s name to Gurney Electric Elevator Co. In fact, the company’s name change occurred in two different ways, which occasionally leads to confusion about its history: in Pennsylvania, it was registered as “Gurney Electric Elevator Company”; however, in New York, it was registered as “Gurney Elevator Company.” Although the reasons for this dual corporate structure are unknown, there is no question the company operated as a single, united enterprise. This is clearly revealed in the marketing campaign Gurney launched in July 1911 — one month after the announcement of the new company names.

The first issue of the Gurney Elevator Company Bulletin was published in July 1911. It is probable Gurney was aware of Otis’ publication, The Indicator, which had first appeared in 1908. Otis described the purpose of its effort as follows:

“The design of this publication is to give to the coworkers of the Otis Elevator Co. a more comprehensive knowledge of the industry, to encourage individual effort and to unite in closer cooperation all those actively engaged in promoting the growth of the company.”

While the contents of a typical issue reflected this editorial aim (The Indicator was published monthly), its contents were also sufficiently promotional that if read by non-Otis employees (i.e., potential clients), it would have had a positive impact. Gurney’s editorial approach differed from Otis’ in that his publication was aimed solely and directly at potential customers, and each of the five issues published between July 1911 and July 1912 focused on a specific elevator type.

The first issue was “devoted to the single worm gear electric elevator of the drum type,” which was represented by the Gurney Type J Electric Elevator (Figure 1). This elevator appears to have been an improved version of the 1908 Gurney National Electric Elevator. The improvements in the design reflected an intense period of R&D between 1908 and 1913, which resulted in 12 patents (all of which were assigned to the company) by various Gurney employees (Table 1). The description of the Type J Electric Elevator found in the bulletin addressed its overall design features, individual components and manufacturing process.

Gurney claimed this machine was superior to other drum-elevator engines, because “the worm-gear case and its bed-plate, and the outboard bearing and bed-plate, are built in one piece, instead of the bed-plate, gear case and outboard bearing being cast and finished separately and then bolted together.” The use of a single, continuous frame (bedplate) was important, because the “perfect alignment of worm and drum shafts” was perceived as “absolutely essential to efficient operation.” Characterizing his design as “new” in contrast to those that used the “old style bed-plate,” Gurney noted that with the latter, a “frequent cause of shaft dis-alignment. . . [was] careless or ignorant setting of the machine at the building. The ordinary construction of other manufacturers makes it possible to tighten up the nuts on the foundation bolts sufficiently to distort the bed-plate and throw the worm shaft out of alignment.” This problem was illustrated by an engine elevation drawing that included a dotted line depicting the deflection possible in “ordinary construction” (Figure 2). It is of interest that the “old style” elevator engine depicted in the drawing was not identified with regard to manufacturer or type — it is, perhaps, reasonable to assume it depicted an elevator engine built by National Elevator and Machine.

In addition to describing the improved bedplate design, the bulletin featured descriptions and illustrations of the elevator’s shunt-wound inter-pole electric motor, method of attaching the electric motor to the gear case, worm-gear and -shaft construction, car-operating switch, controller and numerous safety devices. The electric motor was described as having been “especially designed for elevator service.” Gurney claimed the motor was “more efficient than any other type,” that the “horse-power output” remained “constant at all speeds,” and its design was such that “oil from the bearings cannot be thrown on the commutator or brushes.” The effectiveness of the motor was illustrated in an “efficiency curve,” which revealed that the “horse-power output” remained “constant at all speeds” (Figure 3). The controller was designed “along the lines of sturdy simplicity,” and described as follows:

“This controller consists of but three magnets, mounted on a slate panel in a substantial iron frame, viz.: The main magnet, which not only operates the brake, but also opens and closes the main-line circuit to the motor, thus preventing operation of the elevator machine with brake on; one direct magnet, which operates only when the direction of car travel is changed; and one rheostat magnet to control armature resistance.”

Gurney also noted, “If the car speed is sufficiently high to make two speeds desirable, an additional magnet is used.”

The safeties included a mechanical safety brake, electric safety brake, slack-cable device, automatic stop limits and a car safety that consisted of a “centrifugal safety governor” (located at the top of the shaft), which activated the “Gurney Compression Type Wedge Clamp Safety.” The latter was a built-in, integral feature of the car-platform cage (Figure 4). Its operation followed the normative pattern for this type of safety: when the car exceeded “a predetermined speed, for which the centrifugal governor is adjusted, the car safety [would be] automatically brought into action, gradually stopping the car and locking it securely to the guides by a powerful gripping pressure.” The “operating parts” of the wedge-clamp safety were composed of “non-corrosive metal” to ensure they remained in “working condition at all times.”

The bulletin concluded with a summary of Gurney products, which included “single and double worm-gear electric passenger and freight elevators of the drum type, high-speed electric elevators of the traction type, and automatically controlled electric residence elevators and dumbwaiters.” This represented a distinct shift from the broader product line manufactured by National Elevator and Machine, which had included hydraulic, electric, belt-powered, hand-powered, carriage and sidewalk elevators, and dumbwaiters. Gurney’s decision to focus solely on the development and manufacture of electric elevators reflected his personal interests and strengths, and this shift, in fact, had been signaled by the name he assigned to the company in Pennsylvania – Gurney Electric Elevator.

The second and third issues of the Gurney Elevator Company Bulletin appeared in March and June 1912. The March issue focused on compound-geared electric freight elevators, represented by the Gurney Type B elevator (Figure 5). This machine was designed for “freight service where great lifting capacity and a moderate platform speed is desired.” It was described as “a self-contained machine of single worm-gear type with spur-gear reduction” that was “noiseless” in its operation “at speeds up to 100 fpm.” Two versions were illustrated in the bulletin: a 6- and 3-T machine; both versions of which had been installed in the Bush Terminal in Brooklyn, New York. In fact, between 1907 and 1912, Gurney built 83 freight elevators for use in the buildings of this massive freight depot and warehouse complex. The scale of this work was rivaled by the 48 Type B machines built for the Chelsea Piers, also in New York (completed in 1910).

The June issue addressed the topic of double-worm-gear electric elevators. The Gurney Type E double-worm-gear machine had been “developed to meet the demand for a reliable and efficient electric elevator suitable for high speeds and heavy loads” (Figure 6). It was primarily designed as a passenger-elevator engine and described as being “widely used” in office and loft buildings, large hotels, and apartment buildings “where the car speeds are 350-400 fpm.” The first Type E machine had been installed in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in 1908. The June bulletin also described the Type M double-worm-gear machine, which was, in essence, the Type E machine modified for heavy freight service. The primary modification was the “addition of herringbone gear reduction.” According to Gurney:

“The use of herringbone gears with helical teeth in this machine to obtain the reduction between the drum and worm gears is original with the Gurney Elevator Co. . . . Other makers use spur gears for this reduction. These do not run smoothly, but give a very rough motion to the car, and increase the strains on the elevator machine. Furthermore, the spur gear has not the strength of the herringbone. Gurney machines with the herringbone reduction run as smoothly as though no gears were interposed between the worm gearing and drum.”

The Type M elevator had a capacity of up to 20,000 lb. and a top operating speed of 300 fpm.

The June bulletin concluded with the announcement that the company was “building a second and larger plant of the most modern construction” adjacent to its factory in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. This new factory and the Gurney traction elevator (the subject of the final two issues of the Gurney Elevator Company Bulletin) will be addressed in the conclusion of this series.

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Dr. Lee Gray, professor of Architectural History and senior associate dean of the College of Arts + Architecture at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, has written more than 200 monthly articles on the history of vertical transportation (VT) for ELEVATOR WORLD since 2003. He is also the author of From Ascending Rooms to Express Elevators: A History of the Passenger Elevator in the 19th Century. He also serves as curator of theelevatormuseum.org, created by Elevator World, Inc.

Elevator World | June 2013 Cover

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