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Animated scheme of a paternoster
A paternoster in Prague

A paternoster (/ˈptərˈnɒstər/, /ˈpɑː-/, or /ˈpæ-/) or paternoster lift is a passenger elevator which consists of a chain of open compartments (each usually designed for two persons) that move slowly in a loop up and down inside a building without stopping. Passengers can step on or off at any floor they like. The same technique is also used for filing cabinets to store great amounts of (paper) documents or for small spare parts.[1] As a result of safety issues, many such lifts have been shut down, however a small few survive around the world. The largest of these is located in the Arts Tower at the University of Sheffield, which also remains the tallest university-owned building in the UK.[dead link]


Peter Ellis installed the first paternoster lifts in Oriel Chambers of Liverpool in 1868, as per latest research.[2]

Subsequently, built in 1884 by the Dartford, England, engineering firm of J & E Hall as the Cyclic Elevator, the name paternoster ("Our Father", the first two words of the Lord's Prayer in Latin) was originally applied to the device because the elevator is in the form of a loop and is thus similar to rosary beads used as an aid in reciting prayers.[3]

Paternosters were popular throughout the first half of the 20th century as they could carry more passengers than ordinary elevators. They were more common in continental Europe, especially in public buildings, than in the United Kingdom. They are rather slow elevators, typically travelling at about 0.3 metre per second, thus improving the chances of getting on and off successfully.[4]

The construction of new paternosters is no longer allowed in many countries because of the high risk of accidents (people tripping or falling over when trying to enter or exit). Five people were killed by paternosters from 1970 to 1993.[where?] In 2012, an 81-year-old man was killed when he fell into the shaft of a paternoster in The Hague.[5] Old people, disabled people, and children are the most in danger of being crushed.[6] In 1989, the paternoster in Newcastle University's Claremont Tower was taken out of service after a passenger undertaking an up-and-over journey became caught in the drive chain, necessitating a rescue by the Fire Service. A conventional elevator was subsequently installed in its place. This accident led to an 18-month close-down of all UK paternosters for a safety review,[citation needed] during which additional safety devices were fitted.

In April 2006, Hitachi announced plans for a modern paternoster-style elevator with computer-controlled cars and normal elevator doors to alleviate safety concerns.[7][8][9] A prototype has been revealed as of February 2013.[10]


  1. ^ "Paternosterkast". Bertello. Archived from the original on 7 May 2009. Retrieved 11 December 2010. 
  2. ^ " news article on Peter Ellis, url=". 
  3. ^ "Paternoster, n.". Oxford University Press. March 8, 2010. 
  4. ^ Strakosch, George R. (1998). The vertical transportation handbook. Wiley. pp. 99–100. ISBN 978-0-471-16291-9. Retrieved July 22, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Dodelijk ongeluk liftschacht was op reünie" (in Dutch). ANP. April 14, 2012. 
  6. ^ "This elevator can be hazardous to your health". The Associated Press, in The Times-News. July 9, 1993. Retrieved July 22, 2010. 
  7. ^ Staedter, Tracy (June 2006). "Lifts in Loops". Fast Company (106). p. 35. Retrieved 12 July 2010 
  8. ^ "Circulating Multi-car Elevator". News Release Digest. Hitachi. 1 March 2006. Retrieved 12 July 2010. 
  9. ^ "Google translation of []". Retrieved 12 July 2010. 
  10. ^ "Cyclic Multicar Elevator" (in Japanese). Hitachi. June 25, 2013. 

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