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How Tall Was the First Aerial Lift?

history of the aerial lift

For thousands of years, men used ladders of various type and sizes to get work done above the ground. But as anyone who has ever climbed a ladder knows, they aren’t the safest. They’re hard to climb when carrying tools, equipment or other work-related items. It can be easy to lose your balance, especially when carrying heavy loads. And ladders can be unstable when placed on slanted or uneven ground. All of which makes it surprising that aerial lifts weren’t invented until the 1950’s.

The First Aerial Lifts

The invention of the aerial work platform is often credited to John L. Grove, an American inventor and industrialist. Others contend that the Selma Manlift Company introduced the first aerial lift in 1966. Still others name Walter Thornton-Trump, a Canadian manufacturer and inventor, as the father of the aerial lift. In 1951, he introduced the first boom lift (a type of aerial lift) called the “Giraffe.”

It may be hard to say which aerial lift actually came first. However, all three were much smaller than today’s tallest aerial lift. In fact, the Giraffe barely exceeded the height of the tallest scissor lift currently in use. It reached 45.4 feet at its full extension. Currently, the largest aerial lift of any type soars to more than 200 feet high.

What drove these men to invent this important safety device? While visiting Hoover Dam, Grove saw two workers get electrocuted while working on scaffolding. The tragedy inspired him to build a product that would make it safer for workers to perform construction and maintenance tasks in the air. Thornton-Trump got his inspiration from watching fruit pickers struggle up and down ladders with their heavy baskets. His Giraffe soon became so popular that it earned the nickname “cherry picker” for its wide use in orchards with tall trees. To this day, many types of aerial lifts are still called cherry pickers even though their uses extend far beyond the fruit fields.

Different Types of Aerial Lifts

An aerial lift is any type of device mounted on a vehicle and used to safely lift workers into the air to perform their jobs. They are designed to replace ladders and scaffolding on job sites, and offer greater mobility, flexibility, and safety. Aerial lifts come in many different shapes and sizes. They can be made of metal, fiberglass-reinforced plastic or other materials. Most of today’s aerial lifts are powered. Some can be manually operated.

The three most common types of aerial lifts are:

Aerial Work Platforms (AWP)

AWPs help workers access places high in the air they otherwise could not safely reach. They have many different uses in today’s world, including:

  • – Construction and maintenance jobs
  • – Helping firefighters to rescue people and battle fires
  • – Repairing power lines, wind turbines and other energy equipment


Some AWPs can lift heavy weights, although load capacity rarely exceeds 2,000 lbs. Others can be outfitted with electrical outlets, compressed air connectors and other types of power tools. AWPs can even be outfitted for carrying window frames and working underneath bridges.

Boom Lifts

Boom lifts have two or more flexible joints that allow them to move up, down and sideways. This flexibility allows them to reach up, around and over obstacles. It also makes them ideal for work situations where the lift can’t be placed directly under the object workers need to reach. Telescoping boom lifts use hydraulics to extend the lift out and up like a telescope.

Boom lifts provide excellent stability, and can be controlled by the workers using them. The ability to reach over rivers and highways makes them ideal for working on bridges. They’re also good for working on roofs. They can even be used like a forklift to stack items high up.

Scissor Lifts

Scissor lifts only move up and down, and come with a wide range of height limits. Currently, the largest scissor lift can extend a little over 100 feet up. Scissor lifts are typically used to carry people, materials and equipment. They can be found at warehouses, construction sites, manufacturing plants and other work environments.

Aerial Lifts and Worker Safety

Aerial lifts were designed to make working in the air safer and more efficient. Over the years, they have gotten sturdier due to improved design and construction. Yet, the fact remains that working high up in the air still involves risk. As a result, many workers are injured or killed on aerial lifts every year. Hazards that can cause these incidents include:

  • – Falls from heights
  • – Objects falling off lifts
  • – Aerial lift tip-overs
  • – Structural failures
  • – Contact with power lines
  • – Getting entangled with objects
  • – Accidental contact with ceilings and other overhead objects


According to OSHA, only trained and authorized persons are allowed to operate most types of aerial lifts. Yet, a common theme running through many aerial lift accidents is a lack of training and/or certification. Fortunately, training employees to safely operate aerial lifts is not difficult or expensive. Training and certification can be conducted quickly and easily online. You can also certify people in your company to become trainers of other employees.

Certification to OSHA standards is critical for keeping your employees safe when they’re on the job. Failure to certify the aerial lift users that work for you put your people and your business at risk. Keep your employees safe on the job by certifying them to OSHA standards today.

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