In the early years of the elevator, there was an acute sensitivity to potential accidents. The fear of a cable breaking and the cab plunging to the ground is connected to another field in which the dangers of vertical transport had long been known, namely, mining.
Beginning in the late Middle Ages, when mineshafts in Europe first reached depths of more than just a few yards, mechanisms began to be developed to bring the mined ore up to the surface. For centuries, cable winches powered by human, equine or hydraulic power – and from the 1780’s also by steam engines – managed the vertical transport of freight. Inventor of the iron-wire cable, mining engineer Whilhelm Albert said in 1834 about the hemp cables and chains in use up to then – “Not a quarter year went by without hundreds of cable breaks … being recorded”. That did not improve much in the following decades. Up until 1859, German mining regulations prohibited the transport of people by cable. Miners were forbidden to ride into or out of the mine in the baskets meant for freight transport.