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Paternoster animated.gif
A paternoster in Prague
Paternoster elevator in The Hague, when it was still in operation

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 large amounts of (paper) documents or for small spare parts.[1] The much smaller belt manlift which consists of an endless belt with steps and rungs but no compartments is also sometimes called a paternoster.

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.[2]

The construction of new paternosters was stopped in the mid-1970s due to safety concerns, but public sentiment has kept many of the remaining examples open.[3] By far most remaining paternosters are in Europe, with 230 examples in Germany, and 68 in the Czech Republic. Only three have been identified outside Europe: one in Malaysia, one in CEB, Sri Lanka and another in Peru.[4][5]


Peter Ellis installed the first elevators that could be described as paternoster lifts in Oriel Chambers in Liverpool in 1868.[6] In 1877, British engineer Peter Hart obtained a patent on the first paternoster.[7] In 1884, in Dartford, Kent the engineering firm of J & E Hall installed its first "Cyclic Elevator", using Hart's patent, in a London office block.[8]

Paternosters were popular throughout the first half of the 20th century because 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 relatively slow elevators, typically travelling at about 30 cm per second (approx. 1 ft per second), to facilitate getting on and off.[9]


Paternoster elevators are only intended for transporting people; accidents have occurred when paternosters were misused for transporting bulky items such as ladders or library trolleys.[10] The risk involved is estimated to be thirty times higher than conventional elevators; a representative of the Union of Technical Inspection Associations stated that Germany saw an average of one death per year prior to 2002, at which point many paternosters were made inaccessible to the general public.[10]

The construction of new paternosters is no longer allowed in many countries[which?] because of the high risk of accident for people who cannot use the lift properly. In 2012, an 81-year-old man was killed when he fell into the shaft of a paternoster in the Dutch city of The Hague.[11] Elderly people, disabled people, and children are the most in danger of being crushed or losing a limb.[12]

In September 1975 the paternoster in Newcastle University's Claremont Tower was taken out of service after a passenger was killed when a car left its guide rail at the top of its journey and forced the two cars ascending behind it into the winding room above.[13] In October 1988 a second non-fatal accident occurred in the same lift. A conventional lift was installed in its place in 1989-1990.

In West Germany, new paternoster installations were banned in 1974, and there was an attempt to shut down all existing installations in 1994.[7] However, there was a wave of popular resistance to the ban at that time, and to another prospective ban in 2015.[7][14] As of 2015, Germany has 231 paternosters.[7]

In April 2006, Hitachi announced plans for a modern paternoster-style elevator with computer-controlled cars and standard elevator doors to alleviate safety concerns.[15][16] A prototype was revealed as of February 2013.[17]

Surviving examples[edit]

Many paternoster lifts have been shut down, but there are surviving examples still in use throughout the world.[18]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Paternosterkast". Bertello. Archived from the original on 7 May 2009. Retrieved 11 December 2010.
  2. ^ "Paternoster, n." Oxford University Press. 8 March 2010.
  3. ^ Bertrand Benoit (25 June 2015). "Is It Time for Germany's Doorless Elevators to Move On?". WSJ.
  4. ^ Michele Lent Hirsch. "Ride This Bizarre, Old-School Elevator Before They All Shut Down". Smithsonian.
  5. ^ "PatList".
  6. ^ "In the Footsteps of Peter Ellis". 15 October 2016.
  7. ^ a b c d e Benoit, Bertrand (25 June 2015). "Is It Time for Germany's Doorless Elevators to Move On?". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 26 June 2015.
  8. ^ "Hart's Cyclic Elevator Mansion House Chambers - J. and E. Hall". The Engineer: 61. 26 January 1883.
  9. ^ Strakosch, George R. (1998). The vertical transportation handbook. Wiley. pp. 99–100. ISBN 978-0-471-16291-9. Retrieved 22 July 2010.
  10. ^ a b "Paternoster: Aufzug mit Charme und Risiko". Focus. Deutsche Presse-Agentur. 10 October 2006. Retrieved 30 March 2019.
  11. ^ "Dodelijk ongeluk liftschacht was op reünie" (in Dutch). ANP. 14 April 2012.
  12. ^ "This elevator can be hazardous to your health". The Associated Press, in The Times-News. 9 July 1993. Retrieved 22 July 2010.
  13. ^ Knight, V (1 June 1980). "The Paternoster Lift". Proceedings. 194 (1): 131–138. doi:10.1243/PIME_PROC_1980_194_016_02.
  14. ^ Kate Connolly (14 August 2015). "Lovin' their elevator: why Germans are loopy about their revolving lifts". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  15. ^ Staedter, Tracy (June 2006). "Lifts in Loops". Fast Company (106). p. 35. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  16. ^ "Development of basic drive technology improve innovative transportation capacity of the elevator "circulating multi-car elevator"". News Release (in Japanese). Hitachi. 1 March 2006. Retrieved 12 July 2010.Google translation
  17. ^ "Circulating Multi-Car Elevator System "Exponential increase in carrying capacity"". Hitachi. 25 June 2013.
  18. ^ Flemming, Wolfgang. "Liste laufender Paternoster (List of ongoing paternosters)" (in German). Retrieved 26 June 2015.[dead link]
  19. ^ "Prague City Hall paternoster". 24 April 2017. Retrieved 19 September 2018.
  20. ^ "Landtag SH - State Parliament of Schleswig-Holstein". Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  21. ^ Dullroy, Joel (23 January 2017). "Going Up: Berlin's surviving Paternoster elevators". Blogfabrik.
  22. ^
  23. ^ "The largest Paternoster elevator in the world -".
  24. ^ University of Sheffield. "Campus landmarks".
  25. ^ Hayward, Jo; Cambell, Gordon (23 June 2015). "Paternoster University of Leicester". BBC Radio Leicester. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  26. ^ Chilver, Katrina (9 December 2017). "Why students say university 'death lift' must be saved". leicestermercury. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  27. ^ Taylor, Paul (30 August 2015). "University of Essex: Silberrad student centre review – the future imperfect revisited". The Observer.
  28. ^ izi (4 August 2013). "Na poště se znovu rozběhl starý páternoster" [At the post office runs again the old paternoster] (in Czech). Česká televize.

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