Let’s talk about… elevators?

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Elevators are a pretty good proxy for economic vitality. Booming economies spawn tall buildings, and the bigger the building the faster elevator you want.

In a building that’s just a few stories high, elevators will generally rise only a few miles per hour. These are usually hydraulic and electric elevators. In buildings higher than 10 stories, the speed is generally about 10 mph, a fast jog. These are usually electric or gear-less elevators.

The fastest elevator I’ve ever ridden on is located in The Empire State Building, where dozens of high-speed elevators are needed to whisk about 3 million tourists a year to the observation deck on the 86th floor. The building’s elevators rise at a rate of just under 16 mph.

In the United States only the John Hancock Building in Chicago (20 mph) is faster.

But now let’s consider the speeds of elevators in Asia. The fastest current elevator in the world, manufactured by Toshiba, is in the Taipei 101 building in Taiwan. Until 2010 it was the world’s tallest building at 1,671 feet. A pair of elevators rise at a world-record speed of 38 mph.

Soon engineers expect to break the 40 mph barrier.

By the way, can you guess where all these elevators are being built? The answer, not surprisingly, is China. It’s estimated that about half of the 500,000 elevators installed annually are built in Chinese buildings.

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