If you were making a list of historically significant artifacts, ladders may not be among the first items to come to mind. Ladders are one of those everyday things we never think about until we need one, and as soon as we put them away, they’re out of mind again.
Still, the ladder was an important invention when it burst onto the scene roughly 10,000 years ago. Suddenly humans had access to places that previously had been beyond our reach. Let’s take a look at some interesting — dare I even say “cool” — ladders from years gone by.
The first ladder
We may never know who invented the first ladder, commonly known as a series of steps attached to two poles that safely (hopefully) get you from Point A to Point B — typically vertically. Historians have determined that the ladder was conceived at least 10,000 years ago. A cave in Spain depicts the ladder. Another thing? It also is mentioned in the Bible as the subject of Jacob’s dream of reaching heaven with the help of a ladder. Some older versions of ladders were made from rope instead of the wood and metal used in many modern ladders.
It may be hard to believe, but this is the only ladder on the National Historical Register. In 1893, the ladder was placed on the southeast side of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming by William Rogers and Willard Ripley, local ranchers who decided to climb to the top for an annual Fourth of July celebration.
Their trek marked the first time anyone had ever attempted to formally climb the Tower. Rogers and Ripley used native oak, ash, and willow to make pegs that were driven into a large vertical crack between two of the Tower columns. A plank was placed across each pair of pegs to construct the ladder steps. By the time the ranchers were done with construction, the ladder stretched 350 feet to the summit of the Tower.
On July 4, 1893, 1000 spectators gathered at the base of Devils Tower to watch Rogers make his ascent. Many had journeyed more than 100 miles—several days of hard travel by horse and wagon—to witness the feat. With the help of his ladder, Rogers made it to the top in about an hour.
The humble step ladder
Just about every American household has one — the step ladder. This invention dates back to 1862 when John H. Basely of Dayton, Ohio, applied for a patent on his invention — a ladder with hinges that could be folded up and packed away when not in use. Here’s what a Daily Dayton Journal newspaper advertisement said about his invention: “J. H. Balsley’s Improved Steps! These light and Strong Step Ladders can now be had at wholesale and retail, from five to ten feet high; and common Ladders from ten to forty feet in length.”
Buildings erected during the late 1800’s were getting taller and taller. Because of that, firefighters were challenged on how to scale these structures in the event of an emergency. That’s why the pompier ladder became increasingly popular. The ladder, which is shaped like a question mark, allows the user to drive it hook first into a window sill above him. Once the hook is pulled into the sill, the firefighter would climb onto the window sill and raise the pompier ladder to the next floor to repeat the process.
The ladder was originally designed to access buildings via enclosed alleys, lightwells and yards to which other types of ladders could not be taken.