By making tricky distinctions, it’s possible to discern the builder of an elevator

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

The question whether each elevator construction company had a signature style has become a topic of intense discussion and research here, and we don’t have all of the answers yet.

Johnson-Sampson Construction Company, of Salina, Kan., built elevators that were very similar to those of J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, of Denver and Mayer-Osborn Construction, also of Denver, prompting a great deal of debate about how that came to be.

Our pages for McCook, Neb., and Blencoe, Iowa, show elevators each with a stepped, rounded headhouse and about a quarter-million-bushel capacity. It was a standard elevator style for Mayer-Osborn, even appearing in their ads, until they closed their doors in 1954.

After that date, Johnson-Sampson was building a nearly identical elevator. We don’t know whether the architect moved on to work for Johnson-Sampson or the design was sold. The elevator at Limon, Colo., is in the same style, but there is no indication who built it—no paperwork, and no name on the manhole covers or the interior of the elevator.

Mayer-Osborn’s elevator at Kanorado, Kan., shows the company’s typical grooved vertical style.

So the question becomes: was the style proprietary to one company or to one designer who sold his design to all comers?

The Kanorado, Kan., elevator was built by Mayer-Osborn, in a design adopted from J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, after Joe Tillotson died in 1948. The same company essentially carried on under the new partnership of William Osborn and Eugene Mayer, and some of the earlier designs remained unchanged. The grooved vertical lines are only found on elevators made by those two companies.

Identical detailing can be found on elevators in Lodgepole and Wauneta, Neb., and Monument, Traer, and Goodland, Kan., among others—all of which were built by J. H Tillotson.

Another example, at Page City, Kan., comes from Johnson-Sampson, as proven by the manhole covers. The operator says it was built in the late 1950s. It looks very similar to the elevators in Wauneta, Neb., and Traer, Kan., built by J. H. Tillotson before his death in 1948. A few details and dimensions differ, and in this case the changes appear to be distinctive for Johnson-Sampson elevators. I feel fairly confident that the Page City elevator is an example of an identifiable Johnson-Sampson design.

Johnson-Sampson’s elevators in Brandon, Colo., and Page City, Kan., are clones to each other. They look very much like the Mayer-Osborn design but have slightly different dimensions and lack the vertical grooves.

Arriba, Colo., is another of the same type.

Johnson-Sampson’s Page City elevator lacks the vertical grooves.

My best guess is the larger, successful companies had a few standard designs for their customers. If a customer wanted to request a proposal, they would give specifications, and the company would customize to meet the described needs, presenting the plans in their contract bid. Upon acceptance, the elevator would rise, with enough differences from the basic design to make it unique.

A few telltale details suggest the builder’s identity, but you can’t be absolutely sure until you see a document or a manhole cover to confirm your suspicion.

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5 comments on “By making tricky distinctions, it’s possible to discern the builder of an elevator

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