A good way to describe a dumbwaiter might be to think of it as a small scale freight elevator to move food, laundry and other items from one floor to another. They are not intended to be used by animals or people and can be useful as a portable serving stand or table. They’ve been in use for a long time in restaurants and large, older, private homes and can be handy for moving meals, dishes for example from the kitchen to another level of the home or restaurant. A basic dumbwaiter is designed using shafts, pulleys and ropes to move it between floors. The more modern version can include an electric motor and is similar to a smaller version of a passenger elevator.
Earlier, simple versions were in use throughout Europe before the 1930”s and consisted of a metal or wooden frame. Basically a box suspended within a shaft with ropes to pull it between floors. These primitive dumbwaiters were widely used in European restaurants as well as restaurants in larger cities in the United States in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Orders were often shouted down the shaft and the filled order was then loaded and delivered to the dining level. The ropes used at the time were prone to stretch until they tore and pulleys with thin or shallow wheels that were easily pulled off track would up unceremoniously depositing the contents of the dumbwaiter.
Often the simplest ideas are the best ones and beginning in the 1930’s the simple dumbwaiter, long acknowledged for its’ usefulness was modernized. Employing an electric motor and automatic moving systems improved the sometimes faulty rope and pulley system used in earlier models. Some modern dumbwaiters are available with a higher weight capacity and outperform the unsteady dumbwaiters in use in the early 1930’s. Still in use in office buildings, factories and shops to move products with benefits in today’s work world although they play a less prominent role. With the many multi level homes being built today the dumbwaiter may find a renewed usefulness in residential settings.