Aerial Lift Quiz: A History of Aerial Lifts

Aerial Lift Quiz: A History of Aerial Lifts

What is a Boom Lift, and how has it shaped our current way of living?

Boom Lifts are called many things. Whether you refer to them by their definition: “Aerial Work Platforms (AWP);” historical function: “Cherry Pickers;” general appearance: “Bucket Truck;” contemporary function: “Mobile Elevating Work Platform (MEWP);” or by its affectionate nickname: “The Giraffe,” this machine, in its most crude form, have shaped the modern age through its contribution since the early days of civilization. The basic premise of moving just about anything, from resources to materials, to livestock, and even people, has been essential. It merely began as a tool to add vertical mobility to horizontal and eventually became extremely versatile.


What were the beginnings of the Boom Lift?

To understand the Boom Lift, we need to know its two basic components. First, is the “Boom,” an expandable stand or crane to elevate cargo. Second is the “Lift,” a “platform” or “vessel,” much like a basket where materials and people can be loaded.

Source: Illustrative sketch of a shaduf in the lowered position. Various parts... Download Scientific Diagram (

What is a Boom, and why is it important?

Let’s first briefly explore the fascinating origins of the “Boom” also known as a Crane. The early beginnings of vertical transport can be seen circa 3,000 BC in ancient Mesopotamia, where a simple machine known as a “Shaduf” (pictured above) was used as a lever to extract water from a well. The vertical lifting of the bucket was made easy by the counterweight on the other end. This simple beginning marked the use of the lever, also adapted by the Egyptians in 2,000 BC in cranes for hoisting massive stones into place to create the pyramids.

According to Egyptologists, the completion of the pyramids in 20 years was certainly aided by this technological advancement. Vertical transportation was key to making daily and even momentous tasks easier.

Source: How the Egyptian pyramids were built. Exposing the myths about the concrete Egyptian pyramids. The forerunners of the great pyramids (



source:File:Schönscheidt, J. H. & Th. - Cologne Cathedral, western facade, south tower with historic crane, 1865.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

The Romans and Greeks were not far behind. They enhanced the technology by “motorizing” the machine using manpower through a treadwheel, decreasing effort while increasing productivity and speed to complete construction. The Parthenon and the Temple of Athena were not only visual marvels, but the advancement of the compound pulley really made construction quick and precise.

The Romans contributed, much like the Greeks, through the articulation of the base, being able to move items not only vertically but also horizontally. The massive undertaking of the aqueducts created the need for massive machines capable of reaching new heights and carrying heavier workloads. With the advent of horizontal movement, multiple uses of the crane were identified and used with great efficiency.

Even during the Middle Ages, cranes were fundamental to harbors, mills, and factories. Hoisting items from one source of transportation to another sped up the supply chain in ways that would otherwise take significant time, resources, and effort without the Lift. Middle Age construction also used machines to construct castles and cathedrals. The speed of a region’s development not only depended on the rate of incoming resources but the literal size of its infrastructure as well.

What is a Lift and how did it evolve?

Way back in 236 BC, Archimedes built the first-ever elevator, recognizing the need to lift heavy loads such as water and building materials. Even in the 1st Century BC, the Romans creatively integrated rising platforms for entertainment in the Colosseum. As many as 24 platforms could rise, lifting deadly cargo of warriors or wild animals up from the basement in a matter of seconds using a system of pulleys, levers, and ropes.

source: History of Elevator Technology - Landmark Elevator, Inc
source: Going Up? The History and Evolution of the Modern Elevator (from 2016) - YouTube
source: History of the Elevator ⋆ Home Elevator of Houston
source: History of the Elevator ⋆ Home Elevator of Houston

Until the Middle Ages, hoisting materials for the construction of castles and cathedrals via vertical transportation remained much the same. It was in the 17th century that Louis the XV of France took a step towards a passenger-type elevator called “the flying chair” in the Palace of Versailles, where he connected his apartment to that of his mistress.

Stateside, developments were also making their way through the industrial revolution, where machines using cranes and platforms were used for the construction of infrastructure.

The introduction of steam power and hydraulics also played a key role in the development of Boom Lifts. In comes, Elisha Graves Otis, deemed the “Father of the modern skyscraper,” with his creation of the modern elevator. His contribution enabled a building’s vertical rise to seven floors. This was a significant upgrade to real estate because people got away from noisy streets while getting a better view. The modern skyscraper also shined a spotlight on safety like never before.

When was the first Boom Lift invented?


The combination of two elements, the “Boom” or crane and the “Lift” or platform, birthed the Boom Lift. It has been widely claimed that the very first Boom Lift was created by a Canadian named Walter E. Thornton-Trump, an orchard worker. In 1951, he attached a basket to the end of a double-boom hydraulic arm and put it on a wheeled platform. He named this “the Giraffe.” The name “cherry picker” also stuck because it was the original function of the Boom Lift.

We discovered, however, that contrary to this self-popularized belief, there were many instances of using the boom lift combination and referencing a “cherry-picker” lift earlier in the 20th century.

Even in the early 1920s, specifically in Europe, the Bureau of Power and Light used these machines for construction and, more importantly, maintenance of public utilities. Some units were mounted to trucks, providing the needed mobility for additional productivity.

How else were Boom Lifts utilized in the past?

In the 1930s, firefighters also needed to address the increasing height of buildings. Aerials known as ladders made a leap in the development of the turntable ladder.

Fire trucks evolved during World War II, using lifts as platforms atop the boom. Also notable in World War II was the utilization of cranes and lift machines by the U.S. Navy Construction Battalion, also known as the Seabees (C.B.).

These trained soldiers fought the “Engineer War” by building staging bases to set the scene for the success of the Allied forces. Quick deployment, assembly, and mobility of machines played a key role in the speed of troops progressing forward. For example, the 1945 Navy campaign in the Philippines used cranes, lifts, and boom lifts in the Pacific, providing much-needed support to efficiently receive supplies. Reconstruction after the war put the CB’s surviving equipment to good use.

Vintage Fire Engine | Fire trucks, Fire apparatus, Fire engine (
source: Vintage Fire Engine | Fire trucks, Fire apparatus, Fire engine (

How do Boom Lifts compare in the present time?

In modern times, Boom Lifts are the highest-reaching elevated work platforms. The aerial Boom Lift can move both vertically and horizontally to complete outdoor work for industrial, construction, and maintenance projects.

In 1959 Art Moore founded Snorkel, focusing on safety, service, and value. He was able to solve the needs of firefighters who were his first customers. This gave them the advantage of reaching heights of 85 feet with their hoses. Snorkel can be found worldwide across 50 countries.

Genie was first founded in 1966 under the Terex family. Its founder, Bud Bushnell, bought the rights to a lift that used compressed air to raise and lower the platform. As his machine worked like magic, the Genie was born.

Later in 1969, an American inventor and industrialist named John Grove founded his company, JLG. In 1970, he made his first sale of a short-range boom lift, and ever since, the company has driven lift innovation through expansion to scissor lifts, trailers, and telehandlers across the U.S.

In 1972, Finland’s Jalo & Jalofounded by firefighter Antti Jalo, used Bronto Skylift machines in their sheet metal business. Antti quickly recognized a market for lifting equipment rentals as he used them for the company. As one of Bronto Skylift’s long-term customers, Jalo & Jalo has grown its business to become the leading rental company in the Nordics.

Bronto Skylift machines are Finland-made extreme boom lifts, reaching up to 295 feet in height and 100 feet of side reach with a basket up to 10 feet long that can lift up to 1,540 lbs. Bronto trucks are best known for their 92- to 230-foot fire engines that can be seen in towns and cities across the U.S.


In 1985, Skyjack joined the lift industry with scissor lifts. Currently owned by Linamar Corp, they acquired a telehandler line from Carelift in 2007 and another telehandler line from Volvo in 2008.


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1. The Boom Lift consists of which two elements?
  1. Crane and Lift
  2. Boom and Crane
  3. Lift and Platform
  4. truck and ladder
2. Who were the first people to use cranes?
  1. Greeks
  2. Mesopotamians
  3. Egyptians
  4. Romans
3. The advancement of lifts made a most significant change in the modern world in which way?
  1. ease of vertical transport
  2. safety of passengers
  3. the literal rise of skyscrapers
  4. all the of the above
4. What was the 1st boom lift called?
  1. Boom Lift
  2. Aerial Work Platform
  3. Cherry Picker
  4. Giraffe
5. Boom Lifts can be used for:
  1. General outdoor building maintenance
  2. Lighting works
  3. Construction Jobs
  4. All of the above
Correct Answers:
1.a, 2. b, 3. b, 4. b, 5. b
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