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Haughwout Building 1857

by J.P. Gaynor, unknown

In 1857, Eder V. Haughwout’s Fashionable Emporium was built at the corner of Broadway and Broome Streets. Haughwout (pronounced “HOW-out”) was a successful merchant who sold china, chandeliers, silverware, and other commodities to those who could afford such goods. He had famous clients, including the Czar of Russia and Mary Todd Lincoln, who bought the White House china here. Gifts from Haughwout’s were presented to heads of state, such as the Emperor of Japan and the King of Siam.

The Haughwout building was almost lost in the 1960s when Chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, Robert Moses, wanted to raze it as part of the plan for the notorious Lower Manhattan Expressway. This is hard to imagine today as the building has two key features that give it an important role as a predecessor to today’s skyscrapers.

The first is that it housed the first functional passenger elevator, which was installed by Elisha Otis in 1857. Peter Cooper actually beat Haughwout to the installing the first elevator shaft four years earlier at the Cooper Union, but Haughwout’s was the first to have the actual elevator. It was powered by a steam-engine in the basement and moved at 0.67 feet per second, quite a bit slower than the 8 feet per second most elevators today travel. The building was hardly tall enough to justify an elevator, but Haughwout felt it would be an attraction to bring people into the shop. That’s 18th century marketing.

The second interesting architectural feature is the use of cast iron. While the material was common in buildings around that time, most buildings had only one street-facing facade. Since Haughwout built his on a corner, there was concern that the structure would not be strong enough to hold the weight of two cast iron facades. In order to solve this, the architects didn’t hang the facades off the brickwork in the standard way. Instead, they used a structural metal frame to support the building, which was a precursor to the steel-framed skyscrapers we see today.

What was once E.V. Haughwout’s Fashionable Emporium is now a lofty office building with shops at street level. It’s history is unnoticeable—there’s no mark of Mrs. Lincoln or the groundbreaking cast iron frame. The elevator has been updated, and you wonder if the people who ride it each day know about its significance.


1857 Haughwout Building Completed
1861 Mary Todd Lincoln purchases china from Haughwout's Emporium for the White House
1965 Designed a NYC Landmark
1973 Added to National Register of Historic Places

Reference Links

link History of the Modern Elevator
internal Robert Moses - Wiki
internal Jane Jacobs - Wiki
internal Haughwout Building - Wiki