Imagine an elevator without doors. Imagine one without buttons. Imagine one without stops. Doesn’t sound anything like any kind of elevator for the 21st century, does it? And certainly nothing self-respecting elevator companies in NJ would build or sell.

And, by and large, you would be correct… because these elevators without doors, buttons, or stops aren’t found in the United States.

These elevators, what few remain, are found mostly in Europe. They’re run on chain, continuously cycling. One side goes up, the other goes down. The compartments are small and open — the riders must time their jumps in and out to reach their floors. They’re slower than most conventional elevators — and if you have to jump in and out, that’s a good thing — but because they’re always in motion, there’s very little waiting. They’re called “paternosters” because they resembled rosary beads passing through someone’s hands during prayer (the first prayer, and bead, of the rosary is the Our Father. In Latin, that translates into Pater Noster).

Now, as you might guess, an elevator without doors or stops isn’t always the safest thing in the world. If you miss your step, or a limb gets caught in between the compartment and the floor… well, bad things can happen. Most paternosters have safety systems in place — it is the 21st century, after all — but should those fail, it’s not a pretty situation. Which is why these elevator systems have largely been replaced.

The United States does have a handful of elevators that are cousins to the paternoster. Chicago’s Marina City Towers has something called a “valet lift” where a single person rides between floors. This particular lift is designed specifically for able-bodied, trained employees.

Paternoster designs have influenced new elevator technologies, which elevator companies in NJ might put into local buildings as they come to market. Hitachi has developed a rotating lift system like a paternoster, but with the key ingredients of traditional elevators: doors, stops, buttons. Add magnetic levitation systems to the paternoster engineering style opens up loads more possibilities… like omnidirectional travel within a building. The George Jetson elevator of the future is slowly becoming reality. Elevator companies in NJ had better be paying attention.