Moore’s Escalator

As early as 1898 Western Australians were aware of the invention of the moving stairway (escalator) when The Daily News published a story about Bloomingdale’s (New York) installing it in their store. It allowed shoppers to go from floor to floor, from department to department without having to move and was “like the magic carpet of the Arabian Nights“.

Illustration of an escalator circa 1902.

London railway stations followed department stores and had escalators installed. Reports highlighted the advantages of such technology which included transporting a large number of people from one place to the other without having to wait (such as in the case of lifts). Despite reading about them in the newspapers, many Western Australians would not have the opportunity to see one until 1929.

On 18 February 1928 the Mirror announced that Moore’s Department Store in Perth was expanding. They already had a shop fronting Hay Street and were planning to construct a new building that fronted Murray Street. The ground floor of the new building would connect to the basement in the old one while the main floor of the Hay Street building would connect to the top of the Murray Street building. To enable the public to travel from one floor to another, lifts and staircases would be provided as well as an escalator.

To many people who have not travelled beyond the bounds of Western Australia, escalators – or moving staircases – are a mystery.

Mirror (Perth, WA : 1921 1956); 18 February 1928; Page 10; Moores Build Big
An engraving of the facade of Moores new building.

It was to be the first escalator in the State. Naturally it attracted considerable interest and was expected to become “a novelty in Perth.

By November 1928, Truth printed all the details of the escalator. It was an Otis Waygood escalator consisting of a “single staircase with the moving stairs about three feet wide” and was to be installed by Unbehaun and Johnston Ltd. The reporter declared that the installation of the escalator “opens up a new era in the progress of the West” for which Moore’s should be congratulated.

Construction began and the grand opening of Moore’s was due to occur on 22 April 1929. As the date approached, a large article about the new store was featured in The West Australian and full page advertisements were printed in several newspapers. The new escalator featured heavily.

Moore’s escalator courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (Call Number: 013016PD).

Capable of carrying up to 4,000 people per hour, it was positioned in the centre of the store in the bazaar (the location of their cash and carry section) and transported patrons from the Murray Street level to Hay Street. Moore’s proclaimed that using their escalator was a shortcut and therefore the quickest way to get to Hay Street.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of the escalator, a detailed description as to how it worked was provided. Modern day readers will find nothing new in it however it is nevertheless a charming reminder of how something commonplace in today’s world was once new and exciting and warranted explanation.

If the escalator was not enough of a drawcard to generate foot traffic, strategic advertisements were placed nearby and were referred to as “Moore’s super-magnetic DAILY ‘ESCALATOR’ SPECIALS“. Daily visits were recommended and those visiting from the suburbs were especially advised to not leave Perth without having first seen the specials.

In any case, see MOORE’S ‘ESCALATOR’ SPECIALS whenever you are in town; to go home without having done so would be to throw money away.

The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950); 17 April 1929; Page 2; Advertising

The opening took place on the 22nd without any problems and the escalator was (as predicted) a hit. A Perth writer for The Albany Advertiser stated, “…you should have seen the crowd!” While the bazaar and the various games were also popular, the escalator was by far the “main interest“. All day long it was filled with adults and children alike going for rides. It was so popular that the writer shrewdly noted that they couldn’t all be using it to simply go upstairs. Unfortunately I found no first hand accounts of people’s opinions of the escalator however it appears to have been a sought after experience in April 1929. According to the Sunday Times the question on everyone’s lips during Moore’s opening week was, “Have you escalated?

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Dirk Hartog

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In 1616, Dirk Hartog, in command of the Dutch ship ‘Eendracht’ left Holland bound for Batavia (today’s Jakarta). He was employed by the Dutch East India Company and was accompanied by several other ships when they became caught in a storm and were separated. Hartog and the crew of the ‘Eendracht’ arrived at the Cape of Good Hope without the other ships and upon leaving the Cape, proceeded to sail across the Indian Ocean; taking advantage of the roaring forties (strong westerly winds).

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